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Edinburgh Evening News
Thu 31 Jul 2003
Finally exonerated after repeatedly protesting his innocence, John Leslie smiled and briefly clasped the hand of his girlfriend Abby Titmuss.
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Leslie tells of sex claim hell


FORMER TV presenter John Leslie broke down in tears today as he was dramatically cleared of sex offences.

All charges against the Edinburgh-born star were dropped after his alleged victim approached police with "new information".

Minutes after hearing the news at Southwark Crown Court an emotional Mr Leslie flanked by his parents and girlfriend said the ordeal had taken him "to hell and back".

Today’s announcement brought to an end a ten-month nightmare for the star. The former host of ITV’s This Morning programme could not hide his relief as the Crown formally offered no evidence on two charges that he attacked a young actress.

Finally exonerated after repeatedly protesting his innocence, he smiled and briefly clasped the hand of his girlfriend Abby Titmuss, who was sitting next to him in the well of Court No.1 at the hearing in London.

To the judge’s pronouncement that he would leave the room "without a stain on his character", the 6ft 5ins presenter put his arm around the 28-year-old accident and emergency nurse, who has stood by him throughout an ordeal that shattered his private and professional life. Surrounded by his legal team, 38-year-old Mr Leslie - who appeared on the court list under his full name of John Leslie Stott - was then led through the double doors and into a side room.

As he emerged from court he told waiting reporters: "I’ve maintained

my innocence throughout and today it has been justified.

"For the last ten months my family and I have been taken to hell and back and we always believed that justice would prevail and the truth would out.

"I have said that I would clear my name in the due legal process in a court of law and today I have."

As he delivered his statement his dad Leslie put a re-assuring hand on his back as he threatened to break down.

Mr Leslie, his parents and his girlfriend then made their way to a waiting car before driving off.

The Crown Prosecution Service released a full statement to explain its decision not to pursue the case.

The former Blue Peter presenter had earlier arrived at court with Miss Titmuss, and his parents in a blue people carrier just 13 minutes before the 10am Plea and Directions Hearing at which he had originally intended to formally enter not guilty pleas had not the Crown decided to clear him.

After running a 40-strong gauntlet of photographers and cameramen, he then took his place in court to await the arrival of Judge George Bathurst-Norman, Southwark’s senior judge.

Before he had been formally identified, the judge began proceedings by declaring he was not "happy" with the indictment, complaining it did not name the presenter’s alleged victim.

Senior Treasury Counsel, Richard Horwell, who was appearing for the Crown, promptly applied for the woman’s name to be included, but pointed out that her lifelong "anonymity" remained. Clerk Alex Morrow then asked Mr Leslie to stand and then put the allegations to him. The first stated that: "On a day between the 25th day of May, 1997, and the 28th day of May, 1997, you indecently assaulted (name) a female person."

"How do you plead?," the clerk then asked.

The presenter, who was wearing a three-piece dark blue suit, white shirt and blue patterned tie, replied in a loud, clear voice: "Not guilty."

The procedure was then repeated for the second count which was worded in the same terms.

The judge then told Mr Horwell: "I understand you wish to offer no evidence?"

Told that was right, he continued: "This case has attracted so much publicity I think the public are entitled to know the reasons for this."

The barrister agreed and began by saying that since Mr Leslie appeared at a committal hearing at Bow Street Magistrates’ Court on July 3: "The prosecution have come into possession of further material that has led to the charges against the defendant being reviewed.

"As a result of that review a decision has been taken to offer no evidence against Mr Leslie and that we have now done."

John Leslie will now begin a desperate battle to try and resurrect his career. He is facing financial ruin and decided to sell his London home to pay legal fees. Friends have also said the case has taken its toll on his health.

Fern Britton, John Leslie’s friend and former colleague on This Morning, said she was thrilled the charges against him had been dropped.

"I’m absolutely thrilled to bits. I’ve never doubted John and now he can get on with his life and his career," she said.

But TV bosses at Granada said they had no plans to invite Mr Leslie back on the team saying they were happy with their current line-up.

A This Morning spokesman said: "We asked John Leslie to tell us what he was planning to do to challenge the claims that were being made against him in relation to rape, sexual, assault and cocaine. A week after these allegations were made we still had no response, despite our repeated requests for information.

"Given his silence it became impossible for him to continue to present the live daily show This Morning and we had to formally terminate his contract with ITV’s agreement.

"On John’s departure we had no choice but to establish a new presenter line-up for This morning. The presenters work very well together and have proved very popular with viewers. We do not propose changing that."

A programme insider said that This Morning regularly deals with relationship issues - including sexual and drug abuse - and features live phone-ins from members of the public. John Leslie’s position therefore became untenable as a result, they added.

Anthea Turner, Mr Leslie’s friend and former colleague on Blue Peter, said: "That’s fantastic news for John and his family. Let’s hope he can get on with rebuilding his life."

John Leslie first appeared on TV running teatime children’s show Blue Peter, and then enjoyed a slow and steady rise up the showbusiness ladder.

As his career progressed he became known for the many beautiful women by his side, not least actress Catherine Zeta Jones. Raised in suburban Edinburgh, where he started his working career doing a paper round for his father, the owner of a newsagent’s shop who later went on to become a biscuit salesman.

Born John Leslie Stott in 1965, Mr Leslie discovered a talent for music and his parents moved him from Bruntsfield Primary to St Mary’s Music School - the only private music school in Scotland.

He proved to be an accomplished chorister but after a year he moved back to his state primary school before going on to James Gillespie’s High School.

He later completed a music technology course at Stevenson College in Edinburgh where he also excelled in sport. But on leaving college he started work as a piano tuner while at the same time finding work as a DJ at clubs around Edinburgh.

After leaving Blue Peter in 1994, he began appearing on ITV daytime show This Morning and became a full-time presenter when former hosts Richard Madeley and Judy Finnigan moved to Channel 4. But he and co-host Fern Britton struggled to fill Richard and Judy’s shoes, with viewing figures failing to reach their previous peaks of up to two million.

Dropping of charges ends ten-month ordeal

THE dropping of sex charges against John Leslie brings to an end ten months of hell which saw his name and reputation very publicly ripped to shreds.

The 6ft 5ins Scot saw a steady string of women make sex allegations against him in the national media.

He lost his lucrative television job, faced the ordeal of a lengthy police investigation and was eventually charged with indecent assault.

Throughout the nightmare, which took its toll on him physically, Mr Leslie protested his innocence and vowed to fight any allegations made against him.

Today’s decision by the Crown Prosecution Service to drop all charges saves him that battle, although whether Mr Leslie in turn decides to take legal action of his own remains to be seen.

What was to become Mr Leslie’s sex allegation nightmare began last year when a well-known celebrity alleged she had been sexually assaulted some years earlier.

The allegation attracted huge publicity even though the woman never identified her alleged assailant and chose not to co-operate with the police.

The case sparked frenzied speculation within the media world, on the internet and among the public in general.

Initially, no-one in the national media linked Mr Leslie’s name to the alleged attack until a slip-up on Channel Five’s The Wright Stuff.

On October 23, while reviewing the newspapers, presenter Matthew Wright inadvertently named Mr Leslie as the alleged rapist.

A flood of publicity and allegations against Mr Leslie followed after many newspapers and other media organisations began linking him with the allegation for the first time in the wake of the Channel Five incident.

For several days, pages and pages of national newspapers were filled with stories about Mr Leslie’s alleged antics and women making various sex allegations against him.

Some of the women chose not to go to the police with their claims. But the damage was already done. Mr Leslie’s reputation was collapsing day by day amid the welter of headlines. And as the stories and allegations began to die down, Mr Leslie became a virtual recluse and when he did appear in public he looked to have aged and put on weight.

But it was not long before the ordeal took another twist, and in December last year he was arrested over sex allegations made by three women who had come forward.

Mr Leslie went to the police voluntarily and was questioned for six hours over allegations of indecent assault on one woman in 1997, the rape of another in 1998 and indecent assault of a third woman in 2001.

The allegations concerning the latter two were eventually not pursued.

However, Mr Leslie lost his £250,000-a-year job on daytime show This Morning when he would not discuss the case with his Granada bosses.

He was to later explain that police had asked him to remain silent in all aspects of the investigation.

In June this year, Mr Leslie was charged with two offences of indecent assault on the same woman in May 1997.

Leslie sex charges dropped (31-Jul-03)
Leslie 'to be formally cleared of assault charges' (31-Jul-03)
John Leslie 'seeking city hideaway' (10-Jul-03)
Leslie maintains innocence in court (03-Jul-03)
Leslie denies charges (03-Jul-03)
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