World's longest-serving soap opera star cleared of sex assault

British television actor William Roache, who plays the character of Ken Barlow in the soap opera Coronation Street, arrives at Preston Crown Court in Preston, northern England on Thursday, Feb 6, 2014. Roache, the world's longest-serving so
British television actor William Roache, who plays the character of Ken Barlow in the soap opera Coronation Street, arrives at Preston Crown Court in Preston, northern England on Thursday, Feb 6, 2014. Roache, the world's longest-serving soap opera star, was cleared by a jury on Thursday of raping and sexually assaulting teenage girls. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON (AFP) - British television actor William Roache, the world's longest-serving soap opera star, was cleared by a jury on Thursday of raping and sexually assaulting teenage girls.

The 81-year-old, who has played mild-mannered Ken Barlow in "Coronation Street" since the soap's first episode in 1960, was found not guilty of two counts of rape and four counts of indecent assault.

Roache had denied the claims, which involved five girls aged between 11 or 12 and 16.

The three-week trial heard allegations that he had used his fame to assault teenage girls in his television studios in the 1960s and then force them to remain silent.

Speaking outside court after the verdict, Roache thanked his five children, his colleagues and the private broadcaster ITV which he said had supported him throughout the case.

"In these situations there are no winners and I think we should all be much kinder to ourselves," he said.

"Now if you'd excuse me I'd like to get back to work." ITV took him off the show while legal proceedings against him were under way.

Guinness World Records lists Roache as the longest serving soap actor in the world.