‘Tis supposed to be long term financial security for an actor to land a role in an established soap opera – but ‘it’s been the ruin of many a poor boy’ as the Animals once sung.
Peter Adamson was the first to experience the strange confluence of a part in ‘Coronation Street’ leading to a starring role as ‘depraved paedophile’ in the dock of the local crown court. Peter spent his time off-set as a swimming pool instructor. Obviously a paedophile then. Next best thing to a Scout Master eh? There has to be something suspicious about a man who spends time teaching children to swim, time that could be usefully employed, I don’t know, watching football?
The local police in Haslingden sent two young constables down to the swimming pool to observe Peter at work. I wasn’t aware until this morning that what they actually observed was not Peter’s hands inside a child’s swimming costume – but his thumbs, to the depths of his finger nails. Another officer gave evidence to say that what she had observed ‘she would have considered normal behaviour had she observed it on holiday’. She didn’t observe it on holiday – she observed it having been sent specifically to record any activity that might be considered suspicious. Thus the fact that he seemed to be leaving the boys to their own devices and concentrating on helping a little girl to swim became ‘suspicious’.
If you had asked me yesterday about Peter Adamson, I should have said ‘alcoholic, hanging round the changing rooms at local swimming pool and caught interfering with young girls, fired from Coronation Street’ – that was what I had absorbed from the tabloids over the years. I was also under the impression that Adamson had ‘admitted all’ in an interview with a journalist after being acquitted at Burnley Crown Court; acquitted purely because he could afford to hire a ‘top libel lawyer’. George Carmen QC.
Let us take the George Carmen point first. In 1983, Carmen wasn’t a ‘top libel lawyer’, he was first and foremost a busy criminal lawyer. A most successful one – and the prosecuting counsel appears to be no less colourful, so a wise choice for Adamson. Prosecuting counsel was John Jackson. There is only one serious contender for the role of John Jackson barrister in 1983 – and that is the man ‘best known as bookmaker Johnny Edgar’. All credit to Jackson for using his turf winnings to finance a law degree and new career as barrister. He was a colourful character, later to take over Burnley football club as chairman. A street fighter. It is your solicitor’s role to appoint a barrister best equipped to match the counsel put forward by the prosecution. Regardless of whether Adamson ‘could afford’ Carmen or not, back in 1983, there was legal aid available to ensure that you could match the skill set prosecuting you.
Then the ‘hanging around the changing rooms’. He wasn’t. Adamson was in the pool, it was ‘fun hour’ – a time for the children to let off steam. He was throwing the children onto an inflatable raft – and pushing them back into place if they slipped off. Not lurking round the changing rooms preying on young girls. He freely admitted in court that in the excitement it was entirely possible that his thumb was inside a swimming costume ‘ up to the fingernail’ – but never with sexual intent. This last sentence was later repeated to a journalist – who turned that into the tabloid tale of how Adamson had ‘admitted all’ despite being acquitted. He continued to dig his way into a bigger hole up until his death in 2002.
Despite all the lurid headlines, and a ‘street fighter’ of a prosecuting counsel, the wafer thin evidence that this was a sexual assault, did not hold sway with the jury. The prosecuting ‘Crown’ came second, which isn’t an honourable position in a two horse race.
The authorities regrouped, and came back with charges against another Coronation Street star; Andrew Watkinson or Frank Foster, ‘Underworld’s Boss’ to those who cannot distinguish between on-screen and off screen identities. He was also accused of indecent assault against under age children – boys this time. The prosecution’s case was starting to sound more familiar to contemporary ears by now – he ‘used his fame to groom’, and it was no longer behaviour witnessed by a police officer, but the ‘alleged victims’ were being produced to give evidence. Another Coronation Street star was having to dig deep into his pocket to defend himself and afford a barrister who could match the top rate legal team employed by the Crown. They are extremely well paid – you need to pay as much if not more to match their skill set. These are not legal aid rates.
Despite Miss Whittlestone’s undoubted ability, being sent in to bat with a 15 year old ‘witness’ as support who ‘thinks’ that Andrew Watkinson ‘might have’ propositioned him, but ‘couldn’t remember’ whether that was the reason they fell out, is not helpful. Nor is it the sort of evidence that a jury expects to hear when a trial has been billed as one of ‘paedophilia’. The jury took just 29 minutes to decide that Andrew Wilkinson was NOT guilty.
The Judge was at pains to point out that ‘The defendant was acquitted on the evidence, and rightly so, but it is important that the complainant, who is clearly scarred by an experience, should understand that the jury verdict does not necessarily involve rejection of his account of a sexual encounter or encounters with the defendant. It is a statement that the prosecution have failed to make the jury sure that abuse of the type alleged occurred during the period covered by the indictment and, in particular, before the complainant’s 16th birthday, now more than 18 years ago.’
This statement has been taken by the tabloids to mean merely that being ‘found not guilty doesn’t mean that the alleged victim was lying’. It has given rise to a new meme #Ibelieveher.
It is not known how long it has/or will take Andrew to pay for his innocent status. Another resident of Ruination Street.
The Crown were less than comfortable to find themselves panting into second place once more. That was not how it was supposed to work – after all, they had unlimited funds to pay for the finest legal advice. The goal posts were moved slightly, the turf scuffed up a little.
‘Henceforth, Coronation Street stars, we shall have the finest legal teams, and you, you miserable acting creatures, you won’t get your costs refunded even if the jury let you off’.’
Thus it was that they sallied forth, headed by a new breed of QC. Top flight female silks. Young ones. Surely they could nail the Coronation Street stars?
Eleanor Laws was pitted against Michael Le Vell. She was armed only with the confused words of the main witness. The CPS now was of the opinion that an allegation should be sufficient to secure a conviction. No more police witnesses, no more corroboratory friends ‘who might have been propositioned’, all this was just confusing juries.
Le Vell responded with Alisdair Williamson at a reputed cost of £200,000. Money that he would never see again, regardless of the outcome of the case. You may think it was money well spent since it secured his freedom – but it would have cost him exactly the same had Alisdair Williamson not adequately pointed out the gaping holes in the prosecutions case. It isn’t the ‘price of freedom’ – it is the price of standing up to the intimidation of the charges.
Tsk! Not guilty. The Crown was runner-up again. Juries don’t have the same grasp of ideology that appears to be driving the CPS. They continue to back the common-sense horse.
Behind the scenes there has been ‘acrimony’ after the CPS’s North-west chief prosecutor Nazir Afzal’s decision to drop the case against Mr Le Vell two years ago due to lack of evidence was overturned by London-based QC Alison Levitt.
Ms Levitt concluded there was sufficient evidence for a realistic prospect of conviction and that the earlier decision not to prosecute should be overturned.
Privately Mr Afzal is said to be ‘comfortable’ with his initial handling of the matter. A CPS insider said: ‘We were left defending an unsuccessful prosecution that Nazir Afzal never wanted to pursue. He’s happy with the position he took back in 2011.’
So, the CPS aimed their guns at Bill Roache. Or Ken Barlow for the reality challenged. Bill had one slight advantage – he was technically bankrupt, so could avail himself of legal aid. Legal Aid buys you a £50 an hour barrister. No disrespect to £50 an hour barristers – they no doubt do a sterling job if your mortgage company is trying to repossess your house – but is that really the level of experience and expertise you want when the CPS have hired the glossy silk known as Anne Whyte QC? This is now the 4th bite at the Coronation Street cherry that they have taken and one would imagine that they are a little peeved to keep failing so miserably.
Yet again, ever the bridesmaid, never the bride, the CPS couldn’t secure a conviction.
I would be surprised if Bill Roache has managed to take the Ruination Street exit without passing the £200,000 square.
Within hours they were announcing that ‘if only’ that Neville Buswell wasn’t in the USA, ‘they’d ‘ave that Ray Langton, yeah! 12 year old girls, dirty beast….’
Has anybody ever managed to calculate the total amount of money over the past 30 years that has passed from Coronation Street stars to their Lawyers when they’ve had the finger of shame pointed at them by the combined forces of the CPS and the media?
Or what it could buy in terms of effective child protection for the poor little blighters abused by real paedophiles?
Criminal Prosecution Service,