THE Director of Public Prosecutions has defended the decision to prosecute former Commons deputy speaker Nigel Evans on a string of sex-offence charges.
Alison Saunders backed the handling of the case against the Conservative MP for Ribble Valley, who wept in the dock on Thursday as a jury at Preston Crown Court cleared him of nine charges, including one of rape.
And she insisted those preyed upon in sex-assault cases did not always consider themselves to be victims.
Fellow MPs flocked to Mr Evans’ defence following the verdict, and called for the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) to face serious questions.
His trial heard three of his seven alleged victims did not consider an offence had been committed against them, a fourth man “had a bit of a giggle” about Mr Evans’ supposed sexual assault on him, while a fifth wanted to withdraw his allegation as he did not want the MP to be questioned about “a drunken misunderstanding”.
Yesterday, Ms Saunders insisted the CPS did not take “weak” cases. She said decisions to prosecute were normally based on police documents and video interviews, adding: “Evidence is tested in court in a way in which we are not able to when we make our decision.”
She went on: “Also, what we do know, and there is evidence from Barnardo’s and others that shows this, is that victims themselves may not always think of themselves as victims; it rather depends on the relationship they are in with their alleged abusers, so if someone is in a position of power, or perhaps we have seen it in grooming cases where victims think they are not victims because their abusers love them and take care of them.
“So I think we should be very careful just to say ‘people don’t think they are victims and therefore they are not’.”
Mr Evans, 56, said during his trial he had been the victim of a “Machiavellian” plot. He was cleared of one count of rape, five sexual assaults, one attempted sexual assault and two indecent assaults. After the verdict, he said he had gone through “11 months of hell” and that “nothing will ever be the same again”.
Former shadow home secretary David Davis called for the practice of using lesser charges to “reinforce” a more serious one to be looked at, and called for the Attorney General to review the issue urgently.
Conservative former prisons minister Crispin Blunt said the prosecution had been “artificial” and the verdict had not come as the “slightest surprise”, while fellow Tory Alun Cairns said the acquittal meant the CPS had concerns to address.
But Ms Saunders said: “We don’t just go out and find people. People go to the police and make complaints, they investigate it and then we look at the evidence and decide whether it is enough for a realistic prospect of a conviction. We do not take weak cases.”