Nigel Evans walks free but the trial could end his parliamentary ambitions

Former deputy speaker of the House of Commons Nigel Evans arrives at Preston Crown Court today. Credit: PA

"Do you appreciate how absurd that sounds?"

Those were the words Nigel Evans used. He was being cross-questioned in the witness box of Preston Crown Court; the prosecuting barrister, Mark Heywood QC, was suggesting how he'd attempted to touch a young man in the Strangers' Bar of the House of Commons.

"You're making me out to be a cross between Alan Clark, Oscar Wilde and Benny Hill."

The court laughed. And there was an element of absurdity in Nigel Evans' trial. But for him, there was nothing to laugh at. If the MP had been convicted of rape or sexual assault, the consequences would have been devastating.

The MP denied all nine of the charges he faced; he was, as the court noted, always consistent in his denials while his accusers changed their own accounts. And so, as the charges are dismissed, some political colleagues are concerned that the case was ever allowed to come to court.

"It looked to me from the beginning that some people were settling old scores against Nigel," says Peter Bone, Evans' friend and the MP for Wellingborough.

"Why did the police and then the Crown Prosecution Service decide to waste so much time on stuff which was completely without foundation?"

When arrested last year, Mr Evans suggested to police that the accusations were motivated by malice. One of his accusers was, he said, "vindictive and a liar" - and may have encouraged his friends to make their own complaints against him.

Those complaints, as they were made in court, spanned more than a decade. A bar in Soho; a hotel in Blackpool; the Strangers' Bar at Parliament; a kitchenette in a corridor in the House of Commons; Evans' home in his Lancashire constituency.

All, supposedly, places where he committed assaults; some dating from before the time the MP and Deputy Speaker was open about his sexuality.

He denied all of the accusations and now a jury has accepted that denial. But throughout a long trial there were hints that the MP was unhappy about the way police gathered evidence against him.

He claimed in interview that the "victims" had not, in fact, volunteered their complaints but had only spoken of them when contacted by detectives.

In fact, even as they have evidence for the prosecution it became clear that more than one of them did not regard themselves as "victims" at all.

Most of the charges centred on allegations of touching. But one close friend of the MP says friendly physical contact is something for which Evans is well known.

"I'll accept that he's tactile," says Brian Binley MP, with whom Evans shares a Westminster flat."But so am I and so are many other people in this world. Often being tactile is simply an outward show of friendliness and concern and care for another person. That's how I see Nigel."

Former deputy speaker of the House of Commons Nigel Evans. Credit: PA

The prosecution argued that the touching, where it happened, was more than merely friendly. Evans admitted making a pass at one of his accusers, and sleeping with another. Some of the evidence heard by the court was explicit, often uncomfortably so.

It was painful to hear the 56 year old questioned on the details of a sexual encounter in his own home with a much younger man - an encounter he always believed to be between consenting adults.

And it is hard to know what will come of that discomfort. Few of us would like to have our intimate lives picked over in such a public way.

Evans himself seemed to accept in court that this trial has made an end to his parliamentary ambitions. "I will never be Speaker of the House of Commons," he told the jury.

His constituents, though, have been supportive. In his home village of Pendleton, his personal popularity has never wavered.

The Crown Prosecution Service will no doubt defend the decisions it took to bring a popular MP to trial; a man of good character who is open about his sexuality.

The jury themselves were in no doubt. The most credible witness before them was the man the CPS decided to prosecute. And he has walked free.

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