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William Roache's on-screen wife takes stand to tell sex trial jury: he was always perfect gentleman

By Kim Pilling and Pat Hurst

Coronation Street stars have defended William Roache at his sex assault trial, describing him as the caring and kind "father figure" and "elder statesman" of the show.

Soap stalwarts Anne Kirkbride, who plays Roache's on-screen wife Deirdre Barlow and Helen Worth, who plays Gail McIntyre, both took to the witness box praising the character of their co-star.

Roache (81) looked after younger members of the cast, the jury were told.

The defendant waved and smiled from the dock as his ITV colleagues left the courtroom after giving evidence at Preston Crown Court.

He faces two counts of rape and four counts of indecent assault involving five complainants aged 16 and under between 1965 and 1971.

But yesterday Anne Kirkbride (59) told the jury that Roache was "always a perfect gentleman" around her.

And asked what one word she would use to describe Roache, she replied: "Lovely."

Ms Kirkbride (59) said she had never seen anything worrying about Roache's behaviour on set with young women from when she joined the show in about 1972.

Louise Blackwell QC, defending, asked the witness what she thought of Roache on meeting him. Ms Kirkbride said: "He was friendly. I remember the first time I spoke to him was outside a lift and we had a really nice chat and he offered me a cigarette.

"We shared a lot of the same interests in spiritual things. I just found him very easy to talk to."

Miss Blackwell asked: "Your contact with him in terms of a man and woman together, how did he behave?"

Ms Kirkbride said: "Impeccably. Perfectly. He was always a perfect gentleman."

The barrister asked: "When you first joined was there anything about his behaviour towards young women which was worrying?"

"Not at all," said the actress. "No, never."

Miss Blackwell said: "Over the years have you have seen him in the company of young actor members?"

Ms Kirkbride said: "He has obviously been in the company of younger cast members on a work basis.

"We have had several young actresses play the part of our daughter.

"He has never been anything other than helpful and supportive. There was never a hint or suggestion of anything else in all the years that I have known him."

Prosecutor Anne Whyte QC asked Ms Kirkbride just one question. She said: "In 1965 you would have been about nine."

"That's about right," said the actress.

Helen Worth (63), who plays Gail McIntyre in the soap, told the jury she joined the show in 1974, aged 23.

Defence barrister Miss Blackwell asked Ms Worth: "During the time that you worked with him, how would you describe his [Mr Roache's] character, particularly in reference to young women?"

Ms Worth said: "He was caring. Never anything more. Just caring. What more can a man be? He was lovely."

Miss Blackwell said to her: "Did you see him in the company of young female cast members?"

"Yes, of course," she said. "I never saw anything that was untoward whatsoever in 40 years."

Fellow cast member Chris Gascoyne (45) was next to be called to the witness box.

He identified himself as the actor who plays Ken Barlow's son, Peter Barlow, after joining the show in 2000.

"It's been a joy to be with Bill," he said.

Miss Blackwell continued: "Have you been able to assess his character while working alongside him? How would you describe it?"

Mr Gascoyne replied: "Kind, warm, open, good sense of humour. Professional."

Roache denies all the charges and has told the jury he has never even met any of his alleged victims.

Still at trial.

BACKGROUND

Coronation Street star William Roache is accused of using his fame and popularity to exploit "star-struck" youngsters for sex during the mid to late-1960s. His five accusers have told the jury they were assaulted by the actor either while at Granada Studios, in his Rolls-Royce car or at properties he owned.

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