Tuesday, 14 January 2014

William Roache is on Trial not Ken Barlow

William Roache
The latest information on the "Ken Barlow" trial is that the jury are to put out of their mind who the actor plays on TV, and should try the case according to the evidence.

As I am a lawyer who specialises in abuse cases on behalf of victims, the topic of celebrity abusers comes up in conversation quite often.

It is quite obvious that most of the public make a judgement instantly on whether or not he is guilty or innocent. That opinion is obviously based upon what they hear or see in the media, coupled with what they already know about the person already.

How can any jury who has watched William Roache play Ken Barlow every week make a judgement on his guilt or innocence and insulate themselves from the world of soap operas?

A classic example of pre-judging guilt and innocence based upon someone's public persona is Rolf Harris. Several allegations have been made against him yet he is not the sort of person most members of the public will deem to be a sex offender. He has painted portraits of the queen, done programs about animals, and recorded various catchy tunes which have appeared in the hit parade.

Ken Barlow on Coronation Street is in intelligent, well meaning, calm, yet philanderous person who has produced some rather unstable children, one of whom is an alcoholic, and the other of whom has spent time in prison for murder. What is the real William Roache like? Will the jury judge him on the evidence, or what they know of him.

Take the celebrities from the Street who have appeared in Court so far - Kevin Webster or to give him his real name Michael Le Vell was acquitted of all charges, and made a speech outside Court thanking everyone for supporting him and saying he was going for a drink.Did the jury try the case on the evidence, or what they already thought they knew about the Defendant from his appearance on TV? We will never know. Certainly the alleged victims of the alleged child sex offences will be devastated by the result.

What would be the position if someone who has played the parts of evil villains on TV appeared before the Crown Court alleged to be a sex offender? Could the jury dispel their preconceived opinion that he was an evil villain from their mind? An interesting conundrum.

Stuart Hall went public during his trial saying that the whole process was causing him immense grief, and ruining his life. He denied the offences completely. He then turned turkey, pleaded guilty, and was sentenced. The CPS then went back to Court to ask for and were granted an increased sentence.

Certainly celebrities have the advantage over those without any experience of speaking in public in that:-

  1. They have training in diction and pretending to be someone else.
  2. They have their reputation with the public to use to their advantage.
  3. They have fans who will write to them saying they support them. This no doubt gives them confidence and more self belief.
On the other hand

  1. They have a much greater reputation to protect than others.
  2. The media will be all over their case trying to put as much of their trial in the public eye as possible, which can be a good or bad thing depending on what is reported.
  3. If they lose the trial, that is the end of their career.
  4. They will be under much more pressure to win their case than the average criminal defendant.
Personally I am tempted to say that it is impossible to try a celebrity fairly. Although the jury will try to simply examine the evidence, when it comes to some judgement upon which they are unsure, it is almost impossible not to let their preconceived ideas of what the actor who plays the part is like on TV cloud their opinion.

Let us hope their is a fair trial of William Roache. I am sure that is what all the lawyers and the judge are trying to achieve.

Maybe we should have a similar system to the States where there are jury vetting agents, cross examination of jurors, and so on. Whilst the judge does ask questions to make sure the jury are not biased at all, the comment by the judge in the recent trial tells a thousand tales about the dangers which are unavoidable in this case.

Will the victims claim compensation after the case, or will they have had enough after the criminal trial and want to put the whole thing behind them? Only time will tell.

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