Former TV star John Leslie fought back tears as he was found not guilty of sexually assaulting a woman he had just met at a West End celebrity party.
The former Blue Peter and This Morning host was accused of laughing as he brazenly grabbed a woman’s breasts just after arriving at the 2008 showbiz Christmas bash.
But Leslie, 55, told Southwark crown court the allegation was “ludicrous”, insisting he would have stepped in to stop any mistreatment of women and certainly would not have done it himself.
Leslie’s TV career was wrecked in October 2002 when he was publicly accused of raping fellow star and ex-girlfriend Ulrika Jonsson, and then faced a slew of unproven allegations of sexual misconduct.
He was charged with indecent assault in 2003 but the case against him was dropped at court, and police questioning over a rape claim in 2008 led to no charges being brought.
Leslie fought back tears this week as he revealed in the witness box how he was left depressive, reclusive, and contemplating suicide while pursued by tabloid newspapers and unable to revive his showbiz career.
Jurors deliberated for a couple of hours before finding the former Wheel of Fortune host not guilty of a single count of sexual assault on Monday.
Leslie’s former Blue Peter stars Anthea Turner, Diane Louise Jordan, and Yvette Fielding all came forward to support him during the trial, insisting their friend was a “gentleman” who had never behaved inappropriately to women.
“I am a woman, he was always respectful, incredibly respectful, with myself”, Ms Turner told the court.
Leslie’s co-host on This Morning, Fern Britton, also told jurors: “I can confidently say that the allegations that have been made about John do not sound like the man that I know in the slightest.”
Leslie was accused of being “excited” as he arrived at the 2008 party, and was said to have openly groped the woman as she greeted him because “believed he could get away with it”.
But the star insisted his dramatic fall from grace and years of battling sexual abuse claims had left him, by 2008, “paranoid” about his interactions with women and how they might be reported in the media.
“I’m not an aggressive sexual monster like the tabloids would make me out to be, that’s a million miles from that person I like to think I am”, he said.
“I would never have done what she suggested. There’s a big line between being a bit of a gregarious character and criminal activity. I know the line and I’ve never crossed it.”
Leslie’s career came to a shuddering halt following the publication of Ulrika Jonsson’s autobiography, when she claimed to have been raped by an unnamed TV star.
Following a week of speculation, Leslie was wrongly named as the alleged attacker on live TV by Matthew Wright, in an incident Wright later admitted was an error.
Leslie said the claim against him was “abhorrent”, but tabloid allegations from other women left his TV career in ruins.
Describing his frame of mind at the 2008 party, six months after being quizzed by police over a rape allegation, Leslie said he was acutely conscious of his interactions with women.
“I didn’t suspect them but I was always on point with what they were saying, how I was reacting, how they were with me, if anyone was looking at us. That would be my frame of mind for all that time.”
Judge Deborah Taylor, the Recorder of Westminster, told Leslie as he left the dock: “You for the second time leave this court without a stain on your character and I hope it will be the last time you have to attend.”