The acquittal of former Commons deputy speaker Nigel Evans marks another embarrassing failure for the police and prosecuting authorities in the wake of the Jimmy Savile scandal. But in what has become an oft-repeated phrase by emotional celebrities on courtroom steps over recent months, the end of the five-week trial at Preston Crown Court brings no winners.
Despite being found not guilty on all nine charges involving seven younger men including one allegation of rape, claims of late-night drunken lechery in and around Westminster and at a party conference have left the MP’s career in tatters.
Meanwhile, evidence given in court shone an unflattering light on the treatment of young Parliamentary aides as well as raising questions over the Conservative whips’ system of party discipline – particularly the role of influential senior figures presiding over complaints by vulnerable young workers making their way in the highly-charged world of power politics.
Among those to give evidence as prosecution witnesses in the trial were Speaker John Bercow, Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin and a number of other high-profile former and serving MPs across all main parties.
Lancashire Police went into the case as the only force to have secured a conviction in connection with historic celebrity sex abuse allegations after former It’s a Knockout presenter Stuart Hall admitted sexually abusing girls at the same court in 2013.
However, three previous cases in the North-west involving past and present stars of Coronation Street, including the soap’s longest serving actor Bill Roache, 81, had all ended in acquittal prompting claims by critics of a “celebrity witch-hunt” following Savile’s decades of unpunished wrongdoing.
The case against the Ribble Valley MP however, seemed to unravel almost as soon as it began. The prosecution claimed that Mr Evans had used his power and position within the party to prey on younger men.
But first two “victims” blithely informed the jury that they did not consider themselves to have been indecently assaulted – rather to have been on the receiving end of a gauche fumble some 10 years earlier.
Whilst they admitted they were angry and embarrassed by the public incidents, one compared the “attack” to that a “drunken 14-year-old at the school disco” before revealing that he had sent a good will message to the senior Tory following his arrest on the most serious charge in 2013 and still considered Mr Evans to be a friend.
Both assaults consisted of the MP touching the younger men by putting his hand down the top of their trousers although in neither instance did he make contact with their bare flesh.
The defence described the incidents as examples of “drunken overfamiliarity” which had been easily shrugged off by both men. An account by a third man of an attempt to kiss him in a corridor outside Parliament’s Strangers Bar was riddled with “inconsistencies”, it was claimed, whilst an allegation that the Welsh-born MP had “cupped” the genitals of another young Westminster worker whilst chatting with a group of colleagues over drinks was dismissed by Mr Evans as “absurd as it sounds”.
The former deputy speaker told the jury his behaviour was being characterised as “a cross between Alan Clark, Oscar Wilde and Benny Hill.”
The prosecution had tried to portray the earlier incidents as steps in a journey towards the final and most serious allegation involving the rape of a 22-year-old student.
But, according to Mr Evans, he had been the victim of a “conspiracy” orchestrated by another bisexual Parliamentary worker with whom he had enjoyed a friendly and flirtatious relationship.
In July 2009 the younger man was staying overnight at the MP’s constituency cottage in Pendleton in Lancashire. They had drunk at the pub next door and returned to the premises with others to continue the party. Later that evening, after the other guests had departed, it was alleged Mr Evans had touched the younger man’s penis whilst he dozed on a sofa bed – an allegation he fiercely denied.
However, he admitted making a pass, describing the recipient of the touch as “incredibly flirtatious - I thought he was interested in me. There's no fool like an old fool," he said.
The MP claimed the two had previously held hands and exchanged kisses in text messages but after touching him, the younger man had “exploded” pushing him to the floor.
Mr Evans described the 23-year-old, a friend of four of the other complainants, as "Machiavellian and manipulative", accusing him of having “choreographed events” in relation to the allegations against him. The matter was eventually brought to the attention of then Opposition chief whip Mr McLoughlin as well as Iain Corby, head of the Conservative’s Policy Research Unit.
During the meeting demands for Mr Evans to resign his seat were rejected as a “big ask” at a crucial moment in the election cycle for what was considered little more than a “drunken pass”. The matter was resolved with an apology and a warning over future behaviour.
But in May 2013 Mr Evans was arrested at his home in Pendleton on suspicion of rape and assault of the 22-year-old student following an overnight stay at his constituency cottage two months earlier.
The 56-year-old MP admitted having sex but insisted all contact was consensual. The defence claimed the younger man lied in statements given to police to make him sound more convincing. There had been no pushing on to the bed, no forced undressing and no struggle between them, the court heard.
Prosecutors described how the younger man twice broke off during the course of their contact to text the alleged victim of the previous sofa bed incident – a close friend - before returning to bed with the MP. It was several weeks before he went to police following the intervention of Tory MP Dr Sarah Wollaston and the Speaker Mr Bercow who alerted police.
Mr Evans described the younger man as a “strapping lad” and a “willing participant” in consensual sex. It was he said a case of "buyer's regret". He added: “He was sorry we had sex. I accept that.”