Cleared: British actor William Roache.

Cleared: British actor William Roache. Photo: Reuters

A longtime star of the British soap opera Coronation Street was cleared on Thursday of multiple charges of sexual assault against young girls.

A jury at Britain's Preston Crown Court found 81-year-old William Roache, who plays Ken Barlow on the show, not guilty of four counts of indecent assault and two counts of rape.

Five women had accused Roache of assaulting them between 1965 and 1971, when they were aged 16 or under. Prosecutors had argued that Roache took advantage of his fame to abuse star-struck girls and then keep them from speaking out.

But Roache said he did not know the women accusing him and had never assaulted anyone.

"In these situations, there are no winners and I think we should all be much kinder to ourselves," Roache said as he left court surrounded by his family.

Roache was one of several veteran UK show business figures arrested after revelations that the late BBC entertainer Jimmy Savile was a serial sexual predator who abused scores of young people over several decades.

Defence lawyer Louise Blackwell told the court that Roache was an innocent man swept up in the wake of the Savile scandal.

Coronation Street, set in a fictional working-class district in northwestern England, is among the longest-running programs on British television and Roache has played the much-married Barlow since its first episode in 1960.

He had not been appearing on the show while he faced the charges.

In a statement, Coronation Street broadcaster ITV said: "We look forward to talking to Bill soon about his return to work."

AP