Nigel Evans found not guilty: MP speaks outside court to say ‘nothing will ever be the same again’

Former deputy speaker cleared of all charges after rape and sexual assault trial

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The Independent Online

Senior Tories rallied behind the former deputy speaker of the House of Commons demanding urgent changes in the way that sexual offence cases are prosecuted following his acquittal of abuse charges involving seven men.

Nigel Evans said he had been through “11 months of hell” after he was found not guilty on nine counts including raping a 22-year-old student at his constituency home.

The MP for Ribble Valley echoed the words of Coronation Street star Bill Roache, who was cleared at the same court earlier this year on historic sex abuse charges saying this was not a time for “celebrations or euphoria”.

He said: “Bill Roache just a few weeks ago from this very spot said there are no winners in these cases and that's absolutely right there are no winners, so no celebrations. But the fact is I've got work to do, work that I've done for the last 22 years. All I can say is that after the last 11 months that I've gone through, nothing will ever be the same again.”

The jury at Preston Crown Court took just four and a half hours to find the former frontbench spokesman not guilty on all charges. It was alleged the powerful MP had abused his position to carry out drunken attacks dating back to 2003.

Three of the incidents were alleged to have occurred in bars and corridors in Parliament. He is the latest public figure to be found not guilty following a long investigation into historic sexual abuse allegations by police in the wake of the Jimmy Savile scandal.

Mr Evans’ friends immediately welcomed the result. Former shadow Home Secretary David Davis MP the case highlighted  “serious concerns” over how the police and the Crown Prosecution Service brought sexual offence cases to court.

“In particular we must now review the process whereby the police and the CPS put together a large number of lesser, subsidiary cases in order to reinforce one serious case when prosecuting sexual offences,” he said.

Friend and colleague Crispin Blunt MP told Sky News he was “overjoyed and relieved” but said the CPS had been overzealous in its conduct of the case.

He said it was time to look again at the issue of anonymity for those accused of sexual offences – at least until the point of being charged. The policy had been included in the Coalition agreement but had since been shelved.

Tory international development minister Alan Duncan said on Twitter: “Delighted Nigel Evans has been cleared of all charges. We all wish him well.”

Meanwhile, former Liberal Democrat MP Lembit Opik, who gave evidence in the case said: “Nigel Evans is innocent. I always said so. He could never have been guilty as far as I was concerned. Justice is done.”

Mr Evans said that he had had consensual sex with a 22-year-old student at his constituency home in 2013 and that the younger man later regretted sleeping with him and had gone to the police.

The man’s allegations prompted Lancashire Police to speak to dozens of witnesses eventually bringing charges in relation to seven men who were all in their 20s at the time the alleged incidents which dated back a decade earlier.

However, in evidence two of the men said they did not consider themselves to be the victims of a criminal indecent assault. The prosecution alleged the former shadow Cabinet member had put his hand down one of the men’s trousers whilst drinking at a Soho bar. A second similar incident was alleged to have occurred in a late night bar during the Tory party conference in Blackpool.

In evidence the senior Tory argued he was the victim of a conspiracy organised by another of the alleged victims, a young Westminster worker, who he had considered to be a friend but who was known to four of the complainants.

The man had claimed he was intimately touched by Mr Evans whilst also staying over at his cottage in Pendleton, Lancashire in 2009 resulting in a meeting with the then chief whip Patrick McLoughlin, now Transport Secretary, and a number of other senior party figures.

At the meeting it was decided Mr Evans, who came out as gay in 2010, should not stand down but apologise. He was told to cut down on his drinking and stop socialising with younger people in and around Westminster. 

The matter was eventually brought to the attention of Tory MP Dr Sarah Wollaston, a qualified GP who had previously worked with victims of sexual and domestic violence.

She told the court she was frustrated when Speaker John Bercow said he had been advised he could not discuss the matter after taking legal advice.

Mr Bercow said he urged the victims to go the police

The defence said that other charges were either the result of “drunken overfamiliarity”, the misreading of signals or simply did not happen.

Mr Evans resigned his position as one of three deputy speakers following his arrest last year. He has not returned to the Conservatives in the Commons and is representing his constituents as an independent.

Lancashire Constabulary said all of the evidence was subjected to "careful scrutiny" before Mr Evans was charged.

Detective Superintendent Ian Critchley, the force's head of public protection, said there had been sufficient evidence to justify a realistic prospect of conviction.

“We have worked closely with the Crown Prosecution Service from an early stage, and all of the evidence was subjected to careful scrutiny before a decision was taken to charge, particularly where complainants did not see themselves as victims,” he said.

Downing Street said David Cameron had "confidence" in the work of the CPS.