John Leslie said in court today that sexual assault allegations left him suicidal and in a park ‘with a tree and a rope’.
The former Blue Peter presenter, 55, told a jury at Southwark Crown Court he went from a “carefree” star with a “great life” to a “depressed and suicidal” recluse after he was wrongly outed as the TV presenter who raped Gladiators’ star Ulrika Jonsson.
Leslie told how he was hosting daytime show This Morning live when fellow presenter Matthew Wright named him as Ulrika’s attacker on a rival channel.
He said it was an “Armageddon” moment and the “end of my career”.
Leslie knew he was entirely innocent.
He had dated Ulrika for “several months” when they were rising stars and they’d had a “great time” before splitting “amicably”.
In her 2002 autobiography she revealed she had been raped by an anonymous TV presenter whom she had only met once – and Wright mistakenly said it was Leslie.
Following the revelation live on television Leslie said he begged Ulrika to at least state publicly that he was not her attacker, but she allegedly said she wouldn’t
Wright later admitted he had made a mistake, given Leslie’s name in error and apologised to him publicly.
The TV host said he had considered suing Wright over his gaffe but was talked out of it by his agent who said taking legal action against a TV company might hamper his chances of resuming his career.
Leslie, whose dad was an ex-soldier, mum a social worker and brother a former policeman, said it started a “witch hunt” which led to him being wrongly portrayed as a “crazed sexual monster”.
Other women came forward with false allegations against him and – though he was never convicted of any crime – he lost his TV career and the house he had built with the proceeds.
“I lost my life,” he told the court as he choked back tears.
“I became reclusive, depressed and suicidal. I lost everything.”
He said he was so worried about the effect his downfall was having on his parents he decided to ‘take my life’.
“I got to the point of a tree and a rope in the park,” he said.
But he changed his mind because he said that would have meant his accusers had won.
Leslie said he began to rebuild his life but grew “paranoid” everything he did would end up in the public eye.
He said he “lost the carefree, happy John” and became “this shadow and shell”.
That is why he said a charity fundraiser’s claim he had laughed as he groped her breasts at a celebrity Christmas party without saying a word to her was “ludicrous”.
He said: “The idea I would do that is crazy. To go up to a total stranger I have never met and just do that would be ludicrous.
“I cannot imagine why she has said that happened. It’s just not me. It would never happen.
“My behaviour may have been gregarious and tactile but it was never criminal. It upsets me.
“She has made the allegation and she thinks it happened. This is utterly bizarre out of nowhere.
“I cannot believe this has come to court.
“I was so aware and so cautious and paranoid about where I was going and who I was with.
“I just cannot believe we are here today.'”
Leslie said he had never met his accuser, did not recognise her and had “no idea” who she was.
At the only Christmas party he could remember attending around the time he said he had spent the night chatting to the late reality TV star Jade Goody who had been seriously ill.
Earlier the alleged victim’s boss told the jury Leslie had sexually assaulted her too.
She told police he was a “tactile person who can be inappropriate”.
The woman, who once worked with the star, said: “If you were at an event and found someone had squeezed your bottom it was more than likely to be John Leslie.”
Asked by Gudrun Young, defending, if Leslie had ever squeezed her bottom she replied: “Yes, on occasions.”
She said prosecutors had asked her to make a statement about it but she “chose not to” so they could focus on her former employee’s case.
Leslie also denied groping her, said they did not get on and had done what she claimed she would have confronted him because she was “as hard as nails”.
The jury was told Leslie was found not guilty of two indecent assaults on another woman in 2003 after the prosecution offered no evidence in court.
Five years later he was released without charge by police after he was questioned over an alleged rape and indecent assault in 1995.
He has pleaded not guilty to a single allegation of sexual assault in a West End bar in 2008.
The trial continues.
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