THE prosecution of former Commons deputy speaker Nigel Evans was roundly criticised last night, after he was cleared of a string of sexual offences.
Mr Evans, 56, wept in the dock as a jury at Preston Crown Court unanimously found him not guilty of nine sexual allegations, including one of rape, after a five-week trial.
Outside court, the Ribble Valley MP stood on the same steps where Coronation Street actor William Roache had stood two months earlier after he, too, was acquitted of sex charges.
He said: “Bill Roache, just a few weeks ago [on] this very spot, said there are no winners in these cases, and that’s absolutely right. There are no winners, so no celebrations. But the fact is I’ve got work to do, work that I’ve done for the last 22 years.”
He said he had gone through “11 months of hell” since his arrest last May 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. Three of his seven alleged victims did not consider that an offence had been committed. A fourth man said he “had a bit of a giggle” about Mr Evans’ supposed sexual assault, while a fifth went to police with his allegations but two days later said he wanted to withdraw them. All five, plus another man, did not make complaints at the time of the alleged offences.
The only contemporaneous complaint was that of the young man who triggered the police inquiry when he said Mr Evans had raped him weeks earlier.
Former shadow home secretary David Davis called for the practice of using lesser charges to “reinforce” a more serious one to be looked at.
He said: “This case has highlighted serious concerns over how the police and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) bring sexual offence cases to court. It is clear from the way that this case proceeded that there is a risk of a serious injustice being done to an innocent man, and I would call on the Attorney General to urgently review this issue.”
Tory former prisons minister Crispin Blunt said the verdict had not come as the “slightest surprise”. He said: “If you look at how the case was constructed against Nigel, a lot of the complainants, well, they weren’t complainants; they did not regard themselves as victims. So, this, to a degree, was quite an artificial prosecution.”
Fellow Conservative Alun Cairns said the acquittal, on the back of not-guilty verdicts in the cases involving Roache and fellow Coronation Street actor Michael Le Vell, meant the CPS had questions to answer.
The CPS said: “The complainants in this case provided clear accounts of the alleged offending and it was right all of the evidence was put before a jury. 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.”
Mr Evans was a Tory MP before he was elected in 2010 as one of three deputy speakers. He stepped down from that role last September after he was charged with the offences.
He has been representing his constituents as an independent, but Prime Minister David Cameron hinted yesterday that he would be brought back into the Tory fold.