Craig McLachlan struts confidently past the media pack like he is putting on one of his better dramatic performances for a critical audience.
His curly hair slicked back, he glares directly ahead as he walks arm-in-arm into the Melbourne Magistrates’ Court with his long time partner Vanessa Scammell.
He enters the court house an innocent man – a much loved Aussie actor who in the eyes of the public had never put a foot wrong in his long and esteemed career on the big stage.
Actor Craig McLachlan (right) and his partner Vanessa Scammell arrive at the Melbourne Magistrates Court in Melbourne in December – the strain is clear on McLachlan’s face as he moves past a familiar media pack
Craig McLachlan in action during production of the Rocky Horror Show musical
Craig McLachlan as he appeared in the hit soap opera Neighbours back in his glory days. McLachlan has been accused of indecent assault during a production of the hit musical Rocky Horror Show. He strongly denies the allegations
The fact that he has not only been accused of, but charged with being a sex offender, obviously distresses McLachlan.
He has spent days locked inside the dank surroundings of the Melbourne Magistrates’ Court since he was forced to front it almost a year ago.
But the saga has been hanging over his head even longer.
Articles suggesting McLachlan had misbehaved on the job were made public in January 2018 by Fairfax Media and ABC.
McLachlan ‘lawyered-up’ and hit them, and one of his alleged victims, with defamation proceedings.
The month-long trial was slated to start on February 4 last year in the NSW Supreme Court before a four-person jury.
He was charged just days before it was to hit court.
That proceeding was delayed until after his preliminary criminal hearing and potential trial is dealt with in Melbourne.
The Gold Logie award winning actor is facing multiple charges, including counts of indecent assault, one of attempted indecent assault and others of assault, involving four complainants who were part of a production of the Rocky Horror Show.
The preliminary hearing has been running on-and-off since November last year.
Each time there is a court sitting, McLachlan is forced to put on a gruff face and lineup outside the courthouse with the dregs of society.
Craig McLcahlan (centre) with Dannii Minogue (right) during his stint on Home and Away in the 1990s
Craig McLachlan, playing the role of Billy Flynn, performs a number in the 2009 production of the musical Chicago
Over the course of the preliminary ‘committal’ hearing, much has been written about the allegations against McLachlan.
It is uncomfortable reading.
Among the most serious of the charges against McLachlan is an allegation he sexually assaulted an actress on stage during live production of the popular musical in 2014.
It is alleged McLachlan kissed one woman actor’s neck, stomach and buttocks on more than 20 occasions during a scene.
On one occasion, he also allegedly ‘used his finger to trace around the outline of (the victim’s) vagina’.
McLachlan has also been accused of tickling another woman’s foot and reaching up towards her groin, while he was out of sight of the audience.
At his last court appearance on March 10, it was widely reported that two charges against him had been withdrawn.
It was to be the last hearing before Magistrate Belinda Wallington retired to rule on McLachlan’s fate and whether he would be forced to defend himself in the witness box.
Media agencies from across the country applied for copies of the legal submissions that were put before the court by McLachlan’s barrister Stuart Littlemore, QC and Crown prosecutor Matt Fisher.
The documents were not emailed until about 6pm that evening.
The night’s stories had already been filed and little to nothing was mentioned about McLachlan’s actual defence to much of the allegations against him.
McLachlan had become a beloved Aussie larrikin back in the days when Hey Hey It’s Saturday was taking the mickey out of everyone – and not in a politically correct way.
McLachlan had been a regular on that show in those days.
His defence, while complex in its legal argument, boils largely down to one thing: he was joking.
Mr Littlemore had touched on the subject months earlier while questioning a friend of one of his client’s alleged victim’s.
Craig McLachlan with partner Vanessa Scammell arrive at the Melbourne Magistrates Court in Melbourne on March 11. It was his last hearing before a decision is made on his fate next month
The Melbourne Magistrates’ Court where Craig McLachlan faces his fate. He has made it clear he will give evidence here if the case against him goes ahead
He described McLachlan as a ‘Lovvie’ – an actor who behaves with ‘much cartoon and lampoon’.
‘He is fulsome in his complements,’ he said.
Mr Littlemore described McLachlan’s ‘theatrical behaviour’ as his ‘shtick’.
The experienced, and no doubt high-priced, barrister has argued that McLachlan is not only innocent of the alleged crimes, but has no case to answer.
For starters, McLachlan was unaware he had actually done anything wrong, he stated in his closing submissions to Ms Wallington.
The kissing of his alleged victim’s neck was a joke.
The woman told the court McLachlan had come down the stairs to the backstage room she was relaxing in when he sat behind her and began kissing down her neck.
‘Too much? Did I linger too long?’ McLachlan asked in a voice that was half his Rocky Horror Show character Dr Frankenfurter and half his own.
‘It was sort of a very camp tone,’ she told the court. ‘To which I said: “yes” and then he climbed off and then just sauntered off back upstairs.’
McLachlan maintains it was a joke.
‘The law does not require it to be a good one,’ Mr Littlemore argued. ‘Performed by a habitual prankster, with no intention to assault, and in circumstances of no indecency at all.’
McLachlan was well known among the cast for his ‘over-the-top demonstrations of physical affection’, Mr Littlemore stated.
The ‘prankster’ was simply ‘looking for a laugh’ from his cast members in the backstage room and kissed along his alleged victim’s neck in a ‘Dracula cliche’.
He was also joking when he allegedly tickled a woman on stage during an actual performance of the Rocky Horror Show.
Mr Littlemore said McLachlan had been trying to put his alleged victim off her performance during a scene where he was placed under the bed covers.
He had been trying to amuse himself, his fellow actors and the audience.
McLachlan claims he laughed about the incident later that night while backstage.
He told her that she ‘almost kicked his head off’.
The alleged victim told the court when she lifted the bed covers during the performance McLachlan had been laughing his head off.
Craig McLachlan poses with the award for Best Actor in a Musical at the Capitol Theatre on August 18, 2014 in Sydney
Craig McLachlan has been adored by Australians since the 1990s. A cloud hangs over his career as criminal proceedings against him continue in Melbourne
Craig McLachlan arrives on the red carpet at the movie premier of Hating Alison Ashley at Hoyts Victoria Gardens on March 9, 2005 in Melbourne. His alleged victims claim he behaved badly just months earlier
‘He made a joke of it (and) I thought “He’s thought this is a joke, he hasn’t taken offence” (at being kicked at),’ she said.
Mr Littlemore said the understudy had been angry at McLachlan because she was not familiar with the role and ‘wasn’t in her groove’.
McLachlan further claims a backstage kiss he has been charged over had the ‘character of a greeting or farewell kiss’.
This was a female actor he had been trying to comfort after her repeated conflicts with another actress.
In court, the woman described it as ‘just a kiss’, it was ‘very brief’ but she had been unprepared for it.
She thought it was ‘unprofessional’.
Mr Littlemore said McLachlan clearly thought he had her consent and the allegation that it was an ‘indecent assault’ had been a ‘hastily and ill conceived’ charge by prosecutors.
McLachlan’s alleged antics while onstage have seen prosecutors argue that the actor has a tendency to violate women when they’re vulnerable.
It has been hotly contested by Mr Littlemore.
Among the accusations is that he partook in an unscripted kiss while up on stage.
The scene traditionally ended with McLachlan’s character moving in for the kiss on his co-star, but not quite laying it on, during the Going Home scene of the show.
In 2014, McLachlan had routinely gone ‘off script’ and had ended the scene with a kiss.
‘You really are a cheeky f**er aren’t you,’ an understudy said to him afterwards.
‘Don’t you ever do that to me again.’
Craig McLachlan (right) with Richard Wilkins in the 1990s in Australia. Wilkins recently went into isolation after being diagnosed with coronavirus
McLachlan allegedly replied: ‘Don’t you dare speak to me like that. You are nothing, I will end you.’
His alleged victim had been filling in for his co-star and was only on her second performance.
Mr Littlemore argued McLachlan got not sexual gratification from the kiss – he was simply doing his job and performing a roll.
McLachlan is charged with going in for the kiss again at another show, but stopped short of going ahead with it.
Mr Littlemore said it was ‘impossible’ for the prosecution to not only prove the charge, but prove that it was made in ‘indecent circumstances’.
He had been performing the ‘unscripted kiss’ with his previous co-star for most of the season.
It was this alleged victim to which prosecutors withdrew two other charges they had earlier claimed McLachlan committed against her.
The accusation related to a claim McLachlan pushed his groin into the stomach area of the woman while he was wearing black boxer shorts with a tiger on the crotch, while his penis was partially erect.
It was a minor victory for the actor.
Perhaps the most damning of the allegations against McLachlan centres on what he was alleged to have done to his victim one time while under the covers of that bed sheet.
The prosecution said he ‘used his finger to trace around the outline of (the victim’s) vagina’.
Craig McLachlan (right) arrives at the Melbourne Magistrates Court in December
McLachlan’s barrister Stuart Littemore (right) chats to his client (far right) outside coutr in April 2019. Mr Littlemore has told the court McLachlan is a known prankster
Craig McLachlan arrives at the Melbourne Magistrates Court in Melbourne in November
The court heard the victim did not tell anyone about the alleged sexual assault until years after the event – at the height of the ‘Me Too’ scandal involving disgraced US film producer Harvey Weinstein.
During the hearings, Mr Littlemore described the victim as ‘sexually suggestive’ and would routinely kiss and hug his client.
She would also partake in playful games of hide and seek, he said.
The court heard the victim had expressed distress over her dealings with McLachlan in October 2014, but it had nothing to do with allegations of sexual assault.
‘I had a nightmare about Craig McLachlan,’ she texted a friend years later. ‘It’s made me feel so low thinking about all that Rocky sh*t again.’
When pressed, the alleged victim complained McLachlan had been backstabbing her.
‘He told lies and f**ked my reputation and now he’s coming crawling back,’ she wrote.
Mr Littlemore told the court that actors knew they would be kept in close quarters during the offending scene and that touching was ‘inevitable’.
The director of the Rocky Horror Show that year told the court the actors were forced to climb all over each other during the bed scene.
‘It’s a really tight space and they are really, in effect, crawling over each other to swap their positions,’ he said.
If McLachlan did touch the woman, it was an accident, Mr Littlemore argued.
Nothing was mentioned after the show and it was never mentioned again until the alleged victim came forward years later.
As McLachlan was bailed to his next court date in April, he retired to a small room beside the courtroom where he was debriefed by his barrister.
On returning to the foyer, the area had been largely cleared of the journalists who had been scrutinising his every move.
He noticed a group of supporters who had been seated behind him in court.
For a moment, an unguarded McLachlan smiled, laughed and thanked the people for coming along to support him.
In a moment he would bustle past a media horde, hair slicked back and frown in place.