Former Blue Peter star John Leslie fought back tears today as he denied groping women during his celebrity career and insisted: “I’m not an aggressive sexual monster.”
The 55-year-old former TV host is on trial accused of laughing as he grabbed hold of a woman’s breasts at a 2008 West End Christmas party when she came over to introduce herself.
Jurors have heard Leslie’s TV career was wrecked when he was publicly accused of raping his ex-girlfriend Ulrika Jonsson, before facing a slew of allegations from other women.
But Leslie told Southwark crown court this afternoon he believes he was the victim of a media “witch hunt” and was painted as a “crazed sexual monster” in a tabloid campaign against him.
“I’ve never assaulted anyone, I would never do that, it’s not in my nature”, he said. “I’m a people person, I like life, and I enjoy every day. I would never do anything to upset anyone.”
Leslie agreed he is “tactile” and a “larger than life person” but insisted it was “never sexual”.
“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.”
Leslie, a former presenter on Blue Peter and the Wheel of Fortune, described the moment in October 2002 when he finished an edition of This Morning to discover fellow TV presenter Matthew Wright had named him on air as the man accused of raping Ulrika Jonsson.
“There was a kind of deathly silence”, he said. “A producer came up to me, gave me a big hug, and walked me off the floor. She said you’ve been named by Matthew Wright as the person that attacked Ulrika. I was like ‘what are you talking about?’
“That was it, I was put in a room, there were hundreds of press outside, it all went mental.
“That was a crazy day and the end of my career because of what Matthew Wright had said by mistake.”
Leslie said he contacted Ulrika Jonsson to plead with her to name the real attacker or say it was not him, but she replied through a lawyer saying “I’m not going to name the person and I never will”.
The former TV host said the rape claim was “abhorrent” but he thought his career would resume when Matthew Wright apologised for naming him in error. However newspapers ran adverts asking women to come forward with allegations against him
“My life was never the same again”, he told the court. “I thought at the time as soon as the person who had committed the act or crime was named, I would have got my job back. I believed I was going to go back on TV.
“Because the media went into a feeding frenzy, the tabloids went for me in a big way.”
He continued: “Month after month, it was horrendous, they were just gunning for me.
“They didn’t know if the allegation was true or not but they decided I was their man. It was non-stop from them, it was relentless.”
Leslie held back tears as he revealed he had contemplated suicide and gone to a park with the intention of hanging himself, after being left “reclusive, depressed, and suicidal” by the constant allegations against him.
He said he became a “shadow and shell” of his former “gregarious” self, always wondering what people thought of him on social occasions.
“That’s the legacy of what has happened”, he said. “I lost everything.”
He was charged with two allegations of indecent assault in 2003, but the case against him was dropped when it reached court. Leslie was questioned by police over a rape claim in the summer of 2008 but the case was then dropped.
Leslie denies sexually assaulting the woman at the 2008 party, and told the jury he cannot specifically remember if he was at the bash. But he said he would have been “paranoid” at that time about what others thought of him.
"The idea I would do that is crazy", he said. "To go up to a total stranger who I had never met and just do that would be ludicrous and never happened."
Earlier today, another woman who was at the party said she had been told of the alleged incident at the time and accused Leslie of also sexually assaulting her in the past.
“John Leslie has not been unknown to touch people inappropriately”, she said.
“If someone at a party squeezes your bottom, it’s more than likely to be John Leslie.”
Leslie’s barrister, Gudrun Young, asked: “Are you saying John Leslie squeezed your bottom?” and the woman replied: “On occasion, yes he has.”
Leslie, from Edinburgh, denies sexual assault by intentionally touching the woman without her consent.
The trial continues.
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