Former Neighbours star Craig McLachlan has been handed a $500,000 payout after he was acquitted of his assault charges.
McLachlan, 57, was charged with assault and indecent assault over complaints from female co-stars in a stage production of the Rocky Horror Picture Show in Melbourne in 2014, during which he played the role of Frank-N-Furter.
He strongly denied the allegations against him.
Magistrate Belinda Wallington found him not guilty of 13 charges following a four-week contested hearing in the Victorian Melbourne Magistrates Court in December 2020.
In her 105-page judgement, the magistrate said she found the incidents to have happened – but that McLachlan believed he had consent.
She said it was his ‘egotistical self entitled sense of humour’ that led him to believe others would either not mind or find his behaviour funny, and ordered Victoria Police to cover his legal fees.
Craig McLachlan was charged with assault and indecent assault over complaints from female co-stars in a 2014 stage production of the Rocky Horror Picture Show (pictured)
McLachlan is pictured with his partner, Vanessa Scammell, outside the Supreme Court of NSW in May
McLachlan was represented by top criminal lawyer Stuart Littlemore, KC and his legal fees were estimated to hit at least $1million, the Daily Telegraph reported.
The amount he was seeking is not known, nor is the amount police offered to cough up, but the three-time Logie winner launched a case in the Supreme Court in June last year because police failed to pay.
In January, the Supreme Court heard the parties had failed to reach an agreement during mediation last year.
The actor’s lawyer told the court his client was prepared to continue with mediation, but police said its position would not change.
He was tried under old consent laws because the alleged crimes occurred before they were changed.
Victorian laws were updated in 2015 to make a defendant guilty of sexual or indecent assault if their incorrect belief they had consent was ‘unreasonable’.
McLachlan by contrast had to prove he believed he had consent, regardless of whether his belief was unreasonable.
Magistrate Wallington said in her judgement: ‘I can not dismiss the reasonable possibility that in his egocentric state of mind, amongst some amount of adulation from sections of the cast and management, in combination with a lack of checks and balances on his lewd behaviour, that he was not aware of [the complainant’s] lack of consent.’
Of another charge she said: ‘I am unable to exclude the possibility that an egotistical, self-entitled sense of humour led the accused to genuinely think that [the complainant] was consenting to his actions.’
Magistrate Wallington on several occasions said she found the complainants to be ‘credible’ and that she ‘accepted [their] evidence in full’.
She also pointed out that her judgement would likely be different had the case been tried under the post-2015 laws.
Referring to a claim that McLachlan ‘vampire kissed’ a co-star on the neck on stage without consent, she said: ‘An objective view of his conduct would give rise to a strong inference that he did not reasonably believe that [the complainant] was consenting.
‘It seems counterintuitive to find an accused not criminally liable for such sexual harassment and, as I said, this is no longer the law.’
Magistrate Wallington criticised the old law for ‘rewarding the sex offender for their self-absorption’ and ‘deluded honesty’.
Christie Whelan Browne, one of the four women who accused him of indecent assault, alleged she ‘felt a finger trace about 2cm down her labia’ during a scene when she was partially hidden by a sheet.
The sex scene involved McLachlan’s character Dr Frank-N-Furter disappearing under a bedsheet to simulate sex acts on Janet, whose bottom half was also under the sheet.
McLachlan, pictured outside court in May, had not had an acting gig since the allegations first came to light in 2018
‘One night when he was down in the bed… he traced the outline of my vagina with his finger and I slapped his hand away,’ Whelan told the 7.30 report in 2018.
‘The scene stopped when he went down and the rest was up to me to perform. That wasn’t a character choice, that was him just being completely inappropriate.’
Magistrate Wallington said it couldn’t be proven beyond reasonable doubt that McLachlan believed he had consent until his hand was slapped away.
McLachlan sued Whelan for defamation, along with several media outlets, after his acquittal, but dropped the $3 million lawsuit last year.
He dropped the defamation suit in May this year on the day the first of 11 women were due to give evidence, citing the toll it had taken on his mental health and family as the reason.
Whelan said she was so terrified by rape and death threats after she went public that she moved house and slept with a knife under her bed.
During the case, McLachlan endured months of scrutiny which saw him and his partner Vanessa Scammell forced to make their way through media packs outside of a Melbourne court.
McLachlan had not had an acting gig since the allegations first came to light in 2018, but last week it was announced he would appear on SAS Australia – where celebrities are put through grueling tests by ex-special forces.
His co-stars will include Anthony Mundine, Peter Bol, Stephanie Rice and ‘Cocaine Cassie’ Sainsbury.
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