UK & World News
Nigel Evans Prosecution 'Was Great Tragedy'
Friends of the former deputy speaker Nigel Evans have questioned the decision to prosecute the MP on charges of rape and sexual assault.
After a four-week trial at Preston Crown Court, the politician has been cleared on all charges.
Evans, 56, is regarded by many colleagues as one of the most popular MPs in Westminster.†
He was arrested after police turned up at his constituency home in Lancashire early one morning in May 2013.
A student who had stayed at Mr Evans' address several days earlier claimed he had been raped by the politician.†
From the outset the MP said the young man had consented to sex.
In relation to accusations of indecent or sexual assault from another six men, he insisted either that they did not happen or that he had misinterpreted signals from the alleged victims.
Despite the charges, friends said even before Mr Evans was cleared that they would stand by the MP.
Former MP Lembit Opik told Sky News: "I'm not a judge and I'm not a lawyer but I'm a human being and so is Nigel Evans and the great tragedy in this situation is, not withstanding the outcome of the case, he's been punished for two years.
"He's lost his job when he wasn't even found guilty of anything and we've really got to ask ourselves where is this country going if that's regarded as justice."
Mr Evans was a vice chairman of the Conservative Party and was promoted to the shadow cabinet after Iain Duncan Smith became party leader in 2001.†
He was one of three deputy speakers elected in a secret ballot of MPs in 2010.†
The politician is now openly gay, but he kept it a secret for most of his life, only coming out in 2010 after his mother died.
The prosecution in his trial had claimed that the MP "often when in drink, pressed his sexual attentions on younger men, on occasions using or trading on his position of influence."
Barrister Mark Heywood QC said that the defendant's behaviour had become more and more serious.
He told the court: "He not only abused those young men, in some instances very seriously so, but he abused the positions he held."
But the defence argued successfully that jurors could not rule out the possibility that some form of collusion had taken place between some of the complainants.†
The judge in the case, Mr Justice King, said in his summary that there was a "real possibility" that one of the alleged victims had put up some of the others to bolster his own account.
Many current and former MPs have come forward in support of Mr Evans.
His London flatmate, Conservative MP Brian Binley, told Sky News: "He is a congenial man and enjoys a drink, enjoys a glass of wine. He's also a tactile man as many of us are. And sometimes that can be misconstrued."
Novelist and former MP Edwina Currie has known Mr†Evans for more than 30 years.†
Asked if she thought he would still be able to pursue his dream of becoming speaker of the House, she replied:† "I don't think it's appropriate to start thinking you can go back to exactly where you were.†
"You obviously can't after all of the trauma and the emotional pain of being faced by people you thought were your friends.†
"Nigel will need to move on after all of this and I certainly hope he does."
Mr Evans has much support in his Ribble Valley constituency.
Christine Dilworth is a friend and landlady of the pub adjoining his cottage in Pendleton. She said:† "We were most shocked for one morning police just to appear on your doorstep and take him off not knowing what for or anything.
"Basically, by being such a kind, open person, which he is, I think has been his downfall.
"His door was always open in the village when he was at home - always. Anybody passing would call in it was always an open house."
When he resigned as deputy speaker following his arrest, the MP quoted Winston Churchill, saying: "When you are going through hell keep going."†
Finally, he can start to leave the hell of this case behind.