FORMER Commons deputy speaker Nigel Evans has been cleared of committing nine sexual offences against seven young men.
A jury at Preston Crown Court found Mr Evans, 56, not guilty of one count of rape, five sexual assaults, one attempted sexual assault and two indecent assaults.
The Ribble Valley MP was alleged to have used his powerful political influence to take advantage of his alleged victims but the defence pointed out inconsistencies in various witness accounts and questioned the credibility of the evidence.
Loading article content
The rape complainant, aged 22, told the jury he was raped and sexually assaulted by Evans after a dinner party at the defendant's home in Pendleton, Lancashire, in March last year. But the gay MP said the sex was consensual.
Peter Wright QC, defending, suggested the complainant gave a false account because he regretted having sex with a man more than twice his age. The barrister said that was no basis on which to convict.
In 2003, Mr Evans was said to have indecently assaulted two men in their 20s when he approached them in public places while drunk and put his hand down their trousers - one in a Soho bar and the other at a hotel bar during the 2003 Tory party conference in Blackpool.
The jury heard in his defence that these were examples of drunken over-familiarity rather than the ingredients of a criminal offence and Mr Evans had no recollection of either event.
Another complainant said he was sexually assaulted by Mr Evans while sleeping on the sofa at the MP's Lancashire home in July 2009.
Mr Evans admitted he had made a pass and apologised to the young man after he was hauled into the Conservative whips office, the court heard, but denied he had put his hand in the complainants boxer shorts.
The jury was told the allegation gathered a momentum of its own after the man mentioned the incident to another MP last year, which in turn propelled him into a meeting with Speaker John Bercow.
He was accused of embellishing his story when it became a police matter but two of his close friends bolstered his allegation by coming forward to say they too had been sexually assaulted by the MP.
One friend said he had to push Mr Evans away after the MP leant in to kiss him behind a curtain near the Strangers Bar at the House of Commons in 2009. Mr Evans joked the man had a mouth powered by Duracell and told police: "I wouldn't kiss him for fear of turning into a frog."
The other friend said Mr Evans cupped his genitals in the same bar when introduced to him in 2010 - an allegation Mr Evans labelled "absurd".
The MP said both men were lying and said another complainant made up his claim that he pushed him into a darkened kitchenette near the deputy speaker's office and groped him in 2011.
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.