bill roache
Bill Roache has denied all the allegations against himReuters

Coronation Street actor Bill Roache has been cleared of raping and sexually assaulting five woman in the 1960s and 70s.

The 81-year-old was cleared of all charges at his trial at Preston Crown Court. He faced two counts of rape and five counts of indecent assault. He had already been cleared of one of the latter.

Five women alleged that the offences took place between 1965 and 1971.The defence told the jury that the women's evidence had lacked "sense and credibility".

Roache, of Wilmslow in Cheshire, denied all the charges and insisted that he had never met any of his accusers, let alone attacked them.

His family, who accompanied Roache every day during the trial, broke down in tears after he was cleared.

During the trial, he was accused of raping a girl at two of his properties in Haslingden, east Lancashire in 1967, and of assaulting a teenage girl in the toilets of Granada Studios in Manchester.

He was also accused of sending a letter along with a signed photograph to one of the alleged victims when she was 14 and asked her to write back to him "when you start school again".

Roache denied this was a "grooming process" - as the prosecution described it – and was merely a polite response to one of the many letters he received each week.

During the trial, several other actors from the popular ITV soap gave character statements in his support. Anne Kirkbride, who has played his on-screen wife Deirdre Barlow for more than 40 years, described Roache as "a perfect gentleman" who always behaved "impeccably".

The defence asked the jury if they considered it believable that this "gentle, lovely man" would break away from character to rape and assault the women.

"What the prosecution say is that for some weird reason between 1965 and 1972, for no discernible reason, Mr Roache departed from his usual character and behaviour and became a young woman-snatcher, a risk-taker, taking people into toilets," said Louise Blackwell QC.

The prosecution had accused Roache of using his celebrity to exploit young women.

Roache, who has played the part of Ken Barlow for Coronation Street's entire 54-year run, holds the Guinness World Record for being the longest-serving television actor in a continuous role.

He has not appeared in the soap while legal proceedings were ongoing.

After the not guilty verdicts, an ITV spokesperson said: "We look forward to talking to Bill soon about his return to work."