Tories hit out after Evans cleared

Romsey Advertiser: Former Commons deputy speaker Nigel Evans speaks outside Preston Crown Court after he was found not guilty of nine charges after a five-week trial Former Commons deputy speaker Nigel Evans speaks outside Preston Crown Court after he was found not guilty of nine charges after a five-week trial

The prosecution of former Commons deputy speaker Nigel Evans was roundly criticised by Tory MPs today after he was cleared of a string of sexual offences.

Mr Evans, 56, wept in the dock after 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 done two months earlier when he too was acquitted of sex charges, and said that, just like the soap star, he wanted to get back to work.

He said: "Bill Roache, just a few weeks ago from 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 referred to having gone through "11 months of hell" since his initial arrest last May and added that "nothing will ever be the same again".

Mr Evans 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 an offence had been committed against them.

A fourth man said he "had a bit of a giggle" about Mr Evans's supposed sexual assault on him, while a fifth man came forward to the police with his allegations but two days later said he wanted to withdraw them and did not wish the MP to be questioned about "a drunken misunderstanding".

All five, plus another man, did not make complaints to police at the time of the alleged offences.

The only contemporaneous complaint was that of the young man who triggered the investigation by Lancashire Constabulary 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 bring sexual offence cases to court. In particular we must now review the process whereby the police and the Crown Prosecution Service put together a large number of lesser, subsidiary cases in order to reinforce one serious case when prosecuting sexual offences.

"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."

Conservative former prisons minister Crispin Blunt said the prosecution had been "artificial" and the verdict had not come as the "slightest surprise".

He told Sky News: "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 and they didn't actually want to be in court.

"So, this, to a degree, was quite an artificial prosecution."

Conservative MP Peter Bone said police and prosecutors faced "serious questions" over their handling of the case.

"Good day for Nigel Evans but why was he charged in the first place?" he tweeted. "Serious questions for the police and CPS to answer! So pleased for Nigel."

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.

"Surely prosecutors have questions to answer in Nigel Evans case, after Roach(e) & Le Vell," he wrote.

In a statement, the Crown Prosecution Service said: "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.

"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."

Lancashire Constabulary said all of the evidence was subjected to "careful scrutiny" before Mr Evans was charged, particularly with regard to those complainants who did not see themselves as victims.

Detective Superintendent Ian Critchley, the force's head of public protection, said: "We have worked closely with the Crown Prosecution Service from an early stage, and all of the evidence was subjected to careful scrutiny before a decision was taken to charge, particularly where complainants did not see themselves as victims.

"Only after that very careful consideration was the decision made to put this before a jury in the belief that there was sufficient evidence to justify a realistic prospect of conviction."

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, involving men who were all in their 20s at the time.

He has not returned to the Conservatives in the Commons and is representing his constituents as an independent.

David Cameron hinted that Mr Evans will be brought back into the Tory fold.

The Prime Minister said: "I very much welcome what he said on the steps of the court and I think everyone should pay heed to that.

"I'm sure he will want to get on with working with his constituents in the Ribble Valley and, as for the future, I'm sure it's something he'll be discussing with the chief whip when he returns to Parliament."

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