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Nigel Evans MP Weeps As Cleared Of Sex Charges
Former Deputy Speaker of the House of Commons Nigel Evans has been found not guilty of nine sex charges, including one of rape.
The MP for Ribble Valley cried as he was cleared of one count of rape, four counts of sexual assault, one count of attempted sexual assault and two counts of indecent assault by the jury after a five-week trial at Preston Crown Court.
The charges related to offences against seven men, said to have been carried out between 2003 and 2013.
Friends of the 56-year-old cheered as the last of the not guilty verdicts was read out by the foreman of the jury, which had deliberated for five hours and 45 minutes.
Among those who were present to support the MP was Coronation Street star Vicky Entwistle, who was also seen in tears.
Speaking on the steps of the court after the verdict, Mr Evans said: "As many of you know, I've gone through 11 months of hell.
"I've not been alone. Many have walked with me, including my team at Clitheroe and Westminster ... Many people I don't even know have sent messages of support.
"In my darkest and loneliest times, there were only two or one set of footsteps in the sand, and ... they weren't mine.
"I've got work to do. It's the work that I have done for the last 22 years, so this isn't a time for celebration or euphoria."
While speaking, he referred to comments made by Coronation Street star Bill Roache who was cleared on sex offences at the same court a month ago.
Mr Roache, who was also prosecuted by authorities in Lancashire, said there were "no winners" in situations like his.
Mr Evans said: "That's absolutely right. There are no winners ... so no celebrations.
"All I can say is that after the last 11 months I've gone through, nothing will ever be the same again."
Mr Evans had consistently denied the charges and has insisted that the alleged rape of a 22-year-old university student had been consensual sex.
Mr Evans was also accused of indecently assaulting two men in their 20s in 2003 when he approached them in public places while drunk.
A 23-year-old, meanwhile, said he was sexually assaulted while sleeping on Mr Evans' sofa at the MP's Lancashire home in July 2009.
Evans admitted he had made a pass and apologised to the young man after he was hauled into the Conservative whips' office but the jury was told the allegation "gathered a momentum of its own" after the man mentioned the incident to another MP.
The man was accused of embellishing his story when police became involved but two of his close friends bolstered his allegation by coming forward to say they too had been sexually assaulted.
But the failure of the prosecution to deliver a guilty verdict, raises questions over yet another sex offences trial that has ended in a not guilty verdict.
Mark Pritchard MP was one of those who responded quickly on Twitter to the verdict. He tweeted: "Nigel Evans cleared on all counts. Lancashire Police and Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) have some serious questions to answer."
The CPS said it was "right" to put the evidence to a jury.
"The complainants in this case provided clear accounts of the alleged offending and it was right that all of the evidence was put before a jury," a spokesman said.
"That evidence could only be fully explored during a trial and the jury has decided, after hearing all of the evidence, that the prosecution has not proved its case beyond reasonable doubt. We respect this decision."
Detective Superintendent Ian Critchley, Lancashire Constabulary's head of public protection, said: "While these allegations were made against a public figure, we have been committed throughout to investigating this matter in the same professional and victim-focused way that we would all such allegations."
Mr Evans was a Conservative MP before he was elected in 2010 as one of three deputy speakers, a politically neutral role.
He stepped down as a Deputy Speaker last September after he was charged with the offences.
He has not returned to the Conservatives and represents his constituents as an independent.
Sources have told Sky News he does not want his job as Deputy Speaker back.
"Nigel Evans has never expected or wanted to get his job back as Deputy Speaker - he's with the rest of the party in believing that his replacement, Eleanor Laing is doing a good job," the source said.