UK television stars in court to face sex charges

LONDON - Three ageing stars of British television appeared in separate courts Tuesday, all accused of raping or assaulting women and young girls.

Australian entertainer Rolf Harris, TV soap star William Roache and veteran presenter Dave Lee Travis deny the charges against them, most of which date back several decades.

Roache, 81, is the world's longest-serving soap star, having played character Ken Barlow in the ITV show "Coronation Street" since its first episode in 1960.

As his trial in Preston, northwest England got under way Tuesday, prosecutors claimed Roache used his fame to rape or sexually assault five girls who were aged as young as 11 at the time, in the 1960s and 1970s.

"Favour or condemn him on the evidence, not because he plays Ken Barlow," prosecutor Anne Whyte warned the jury.

Whyte said Roache had attacked one of the girls in a toilet before sending her a signed photograph, which was "designed to impress a young schoolgirl and to secure her unquestioning loyalty.

"A sort of grooming, as we would nowadays call it," added the prosecutor.

Roache denies five counts of indecent assault and two counts of rape involving five girls aged between 11 or 12 and 16.

Meanwhile prosecutors told the trial of Dave Lee Travis that the former BBC star had assaulted young women while live on television and in his radio studio.

The 68-year-old, one of the biggest names in British broadcasting during the 1970s and 1980s, denies assaulting 11 women, one of whom says she was underage at the time.

The jury at London's Southwark Crown Court was shown footage of Travis allegedly putting his hand up a young woman's skirt as he introduced a song by The Smurfs on the TV show "Top of the Pops" in 1978.

Prosecutor Miranda Moore said Travis, appearing in court under his real name David Patrick Griffin, was an "opportunist" who had targeted "young women who were very vulnerable".

The youngest of his alleged victims says she was 15 when Travis groped her breasts and pinned her to her seat while in his trailer at a concert by the pop group Showaddywaddy in 1978.

Another accuser said she was groped by Travis while working at a theatre where he was performing as the "evil wizard" in the pantomime Aladdin.

The jury was told that Travis pulled his hand out of her trousers when he heard a member of the comedy duo the Chuckle Brothers, who were also performing in the pantomime, walking past.

Travis spent 25 years presenting on BBC Radio 1, and also hosted a music request show on the BBC World Service.

Travis is accused of 13 counts of indecent assault between 1976 and 2003, and one count of sexual assault in 2008.

In London, Australian-born Harris denied 12 counts of indecent assault. All except one of the cases involve women who were aged under 16, the age of sexual consent in Britain.

The 83-year-old musician, presenter and artist - who once painted a portrait of Queen Elizabeth II and who has been honoured by both Britain and his native Australia - has yet to make a plea on four additional charges of making an indecent image of a child in 2012.

Harris is due to go on trial on April 30 accused of assaulting four women between 1968 and 1986. One of the charges relates to a girl who was only seven or eight at the time of the alleged assault.

Travis and Harris are among several ageing celebrities arrested under Operation Yewtree, the British police probe into historical abuse set up in the wake of revelations that the late BBC star Jimmy Savile was a prolific sex offender.

Roache was not arrested as part of the operation.

Comedian Freddie Starr, 71, was arrested for a third time on Tuesday under Operation Yewtree, police said.