THE Director of Public Prosecutions has defended the decision to prosecute former Commons’ deputy speaker Nigel Evans, from Lancashire, over a string of sex offence charges, saying victims of such offences do not always consider themselves victims.
Alison Saunders defended the Crown Prosecution Service’s handling of the case against the Conservative MP for Ribble Valley, who wept in the dock on Thursday after a jury at Preston Crown Court unanimously cleared him of nine sexual allegations, including one of rape.
His trial had heard that three of his seven alleged victims did not consider an offence had been committed against them, a fourth “had a bit of a giggle” about Mr Evans’ supposed sexual assault on him, while a fifth man wanted to withdraw his allegation as he did not want the MP to be questioned about “a drunken misunderstanding”.
Fellow MPs flocked to his defence following the verdict, and called for the CPS to face serious questions over their handling of the case.
Ms Saunders defended the decision to prosecute the case, telling BBC Breakfast that the CPS did not take “weak” cases.
She said decisions to prosecute are normally based on police documents and video interviews, saying “evidence is tested in court in a way in which we are not able to when we make our decision”.
She continued: “Also what we do know, and there is evidence from Barnardos 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 against him.
Following the verdict, he said he had gone through “11 months of hell” and that “nothing will ever be the same again”.
He was found not guilty of one count of rape, five sexual assaults, one attempted sexual assault and two indecent assaults.
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, coming on the back of not guilty verdicts in cases involving Coronation Street actors Michael Le Vell and William Roache, meant the CPS had concerns to address.
But Ms Saunders told BBC Breakfast: “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. It is our role to make sure we bring properly thought-out and good cases before the court and leave it to the jury to decide whether or not they think they should be convicted.”
She said that the media was focusing on a “handful” of high profile cases that had ended with acquittals when the CPS brought 730,000 cases a year, with a success rate of around 86%.
She added: “We are not saying these cases were brought wrongly, we think they were brought correctly with the right tests applied to them and we need to put them into the context of the many thousands of successful cases that we bring.”
On the Today programme she was asked if she would prosecute a similar case in future, to which she said: “If the evidence was sufficient to satisfy a realistic prospect of conviction, and if the case was in the public interest, which it almost inevitably would be in those circumstances, then yes I would.”
She added: “Our test is to make sure there is a realistic prospect of conviction and we would be failing victims if we did not apply that test across the board, with the same standard, no matter who the alleged offender is.”