How Stephen Tompkinson's acting career suffered during his trial

Lost work and an award-winning acting career ‘on hold’: How Stephen Tompkinson, star of TV hits Ballykissangel and DCI Banks, saw job offers dry up after he was falsely accused of punching a stranger, as star is cleared of GBH after row outside home

  • Veteran actor detailed the crippling impact of the case on his professional life 

Stephen Tompkinson is famous for a long and prestigious acting career, with TV hits including DCI Banks, Ballykissangel and Wild at Heart. 

But all this would be put ‘on hold’ for nearly two years as he fought a charge of grievous bodily harm, which he was finally cleared of today. 

Giving evidence, Mr Tompkinson detailed the crippling impact of the case on his professional life, with roles he already had taken away from him and any offers drying up. 

Asked by his lawyer if he needed this acting work, the 57-year-old replied ‘yes, absolutely’ – suggesting the trial has had a damaging effect on his finances. 

Mr Tompkinson – who is twice divorced but was going out with his Educating Rita co-star, Jessica Johnson – was accused of punching Karl Poole in the head after finding him and a friend noisily drinking at the bottom of his driveway in the early hours of May 30, 2021. 

Stephen Tompkinson has had a number of major television roles, including playing DCI Alan Banks

Mr Tompkinson with Niall Tobin in Ballykissangel. The actor played a British priest adjusting to life in an Irish village 

Tompkinson is pictured in 2019 with his partner and Educating Rita co-star, Jessica Johnson

But the actor told jurors he only pushed Mr Poole away in self-defence and the contact ‘wasn’t enough to knock a sober man off his feet’. 

He let out a sigh of relief but showed no emotion as the jury at Newcastle Crown Court returned a not guilty verdict today. 

Mr Tompkinson’s defence drew on his showbiz career at moments in the trial, describing him as ‘acting royalty.’

His barrister, Nicholas Lumley, KC, said that in the industry ‘there may be hellraisers who wear their reputation as some sort of badge of honour and trade on it’ but his client had always been a true professional.

Comic Andy Hamilton, a writer on Drop the Dead Donkey comedy series which launched his career, appeared in person to testify to his good character.

He said: ‘That show was a real pressure cooker as we had very tight deadlines because we put a lot of topical jokes into the script.

‘Stephen was always the calmest member of the production. We did a whole series when he was ill suffering the after effects of malaria which was quite debilitating.

‘So he had every justification in getting hot under the collar but he was very cool headed, very composed, very calm.

‘I have never see him lose his temper, I cannot remember him being aggressive with anyone.

‘I have seen him be the peacemaker when people have been upset and have seen him step in to calm things down.’

Giving evidence, Mr Tompkinson detailed the crippling impact of the case on his professional life, with roles he already had taken away from him and any offers drying up. He’s seen on Wild At Heart 

Comic Andy Hamilton, a writer on Drop the Dead Donkey comedy series, supported Tompkinson

The road where the incident happened in May 2021

He added: ‘Stephen works pretty much permanently and one of the reasons for that is that people know he is good under pressure.’

Mr Tompkinson told the court that during his long career as an actor he had worked in many ‘stressful situations’ but had never assaulted anyone.

He recalled advice given by his late father when Ballykissangel made him a household name to ‘show respect’ as he had effectively been invited into people’s living rooms. 

And he said the habit of not making proper contact in fight scenes had been ‘in-bred’ and he was sure only his palm made contact with Mr Poole and with little force as a form of self-defence. 

Mr Tompkinson told the court he got his big break of a seven-month contract with the BBC after winning a top student award when finishing drama school in 1987.

His first big hit was in the TV comedy series Drop the Dead Donkey and the TV series Ballykissangel was watched by 15 million viewers, he said.

Other hits included Wild at Heart and DCI Banks and he also starred in the film Brassed Off.

In 1984, he won the 1994 British Comedy Award for Best TV Comedy Actor. 

 A photo released by prosecutors of Mr Tompkinson shortly after his arrest in 2021. This photo was shown to the jury during the trial  

Other photos show the actor holding his two hands outstretched. One is bruised. These photos were shown to the jury during the trial 

The photos were released by the Crown Prosecution Service

Mr Lumley invoked his client’s glittering career in his closing speech, asking: ‘What had he to gain from doing this vindictively? He had everything to lose. 

‘He has served a profession he loves, from gently bewildered priest of the 1990s to the present day, an actor sought out because of his calmness, that opinion of him went entirely unchallenged, and yet the prosecution seeks to say now, he must have lost his temper.

‘What possible motive would he have to throw his reputation? He has never conducted himself in the way the prosecution alleges in 57 years. 

‘He is acting royalty. We suggest whatever he did, he did in self defence, no more than any of us would have done.

‘They were the unintended consequences of a rapid coming together of a sober and a drunk and that does not make Stephen Tompkinson a criminal.

‘It is what makes him innocent.’

The jury agreed – clearing him of all charges. 

Asked for his reaction as he was leaving court, Mr Tompkinson told reporters: ‘I just want to go home.’ 

After the verdict, a disappointed sigh could be heard from the public gallery where complainant Karl Poole (pictured outside court after the trial) was sitting 

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