SOAP star William Roache said there were ‘no winners’ after being cleared of historic sex allegations.
Mr Roache, who had been accused of raping one woman at his former home in Haslingden 47 years ago, also said he would now be returning to the cobbles of Coronation Street following the 19-day trial.
Following the not guilty verdicts, friends and former co-stars from East Lancashire also expressed their support for the 81-year-old and said they had always believed he was not guilty.
On the steps of Preston Crown Court, he said: "I have just got one thing to say, in these situations there are no winners and I think we should all be much kinder to ourselves.
“Now if you will excuse me I would like to get back to work."
The actor, who has played Ken Barlow in the ITV soap since 1960, was said to have used his fame and popularity to exploit the ‘starstruck’ girls, aged 16 and under, between the mid-60s and early 70s.
The women told jurors they were sexually abused by the defendant either at Granada Studios in Manchester, in his car or at properties he owned in Haslingden. But Mr Roache told the court he had no knowledge of any of the women and the abuse simply did not happen.
Following the trial, in which some of Mr Roache’s Coronation Street colleagues gave evidence in his defence, the jury cleared him of two counts of rape and four indecent assaults.
Messages of support yesterday poured in for the soap legend, who appeared in the very first episode of Coronation Street.
Among them was Ribble Valley politician Kevin Horkin, who said he had been friends with Mr Roache for 28 years and was ‘absolutely thrilled’ with the result. The soap stalwart had been due to speak at his mayor making ceremony just days after he was arrested on suspicion of raping a girl in Haslingden twice in 1967.
Mr Horkin said: “Bill is one of the most gentle, genuine men I have ever met in my life. “He is an inspirational figure and I really felt for him over these past months because it has been a traumatic ordeal.
“But he has come through the whole experience with tremendous grace and dignity. “That is the nature of the man.
“He will be looking forward to going back to work. Work for him is very much his extended family.
“Bill loves the show and I would imagine he will be back very soon.”
Mr Horkin, who was one of just 22 guests at Mr Roache’s 80th birthday party, said he expected the soap stalwart to celebrate the verdict with his children, three of whom have been supporting their father at Preston Crown Court throughout the trial.
Ribble Valley MP Nigel Evans added on Facebook: “I am so pleased to hear the news of Bill Roache. He is a decent man who now can get his life back.”
Former East Lancashire Coronation Street actors also offered their support.
Peter Gunn, who played teacher Brian Packham in the show, said: “My personal view is that it is a relief for Bill.
“I think what he has been through would be stressful.
“We worked together and he was very professional.
“Of course I now wish him all the best for when he returns to work.”
Vicky Entwistle, who is from Accrington and played Janice Battersby in Coronation Street, said on Twitter she and her husband Andrew Chapman were ‘very happy’ with the news.
She said: “Andy and I elated to hear the wonderful news that William Roache has been cleared of all charges!!! We have a very happy house!!”
Shortly after the verdict, Antony Cotton, who is from Turn Village, near Edenfield and played barman Sean Tully in the long-running drama, also took to the social networking site.
He wrote: “The truth will always out...” Haslingden councillor Ann Kenyon said she remembered Mr Roache from when he lived in the town. She said she was ‘not surprised’ by the result.
Coun Kenyon said: “He never used to bother anybody. He was not the type of person that imposed himself on anybody.
“I always found him to be pleasant and a perfect gentleman.
“But this will never go away for him. I think he will go back into Coronation Street, but in six months’ time, he will say he is retiring.
“Even though he has been found not guilty, people will have the allegations at the back of their minds.”
Yvonne Howarth, who works at Manning’s bakery, in Deardengate, Haslingden, said: “I used to see Bill around and he was completely normal.
“There were no rumours or gossip at the time. “It is difficult when the defendant is famous, but I am not surprised by the verdict.”
Nazir Afzal, chief crown prosecutor for CPS North West, said the case had been treated like any other despite the defendant’s fame.
He said: “When serious allegations are made and the evidence in a case passes the prosecution test it is right that a jury considers the evidence.
“That is the way our legal system works. When a jury delivers a verdict, no matter what it is, that is justice being done.
“We have a duty to those who make complaints of serious offences to listen to the allegations, and assess the evidence against the same evidential standards we use for all criminal cases, no matter who makes the complaint, or who the complaint is against.”
A spokesman for Lancashire Police said the force ‘entirely respected’ the jury’s verdict.