MP Nigel Evans cleared of sexual assaults
Former deputy speaker of the House of Commons Nigel Evans has been cleared of a string of sex abuse charges, including one of rape.
The rape claim was one of several allegations made by seven men during a five-week trial at Preston Crown Court.
The former Conservative MP was said to have used his political influence to take advantage of his alleged victims.
But the defence pointed out inconsistencies in various witness accounts.
'Months of hell'
The jury unanimously found Mr Evans not guilty of one count of rape, five sexual assaults, one attempted sexual assault and two indecent assaults.
Following the acquittal, fellow MPs issued messages of support for Mr Evans, with some questioning why he was ever charged.
The 56-year Ribble Valley MP, currently sitting as an independent, burst into tears as the verdicts were announced.
Speaking outside the court, Mr Evans said he had been "through 11 months of hell".
The MP said: "This isn't a time for celebration or euphoria.
"As William Roache said on this very spot, there are no winners in these cases, so no celebration.
"Nothing will ever be the same again."
Prime Minister David Cameron was one of many of Mr Evans's Westminster colleagues to comment on the acquittal.
Mr Cameron 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."
Labour MP for Huddersfield Barry Sheerman said of Mr Evans: "He may have been a bit daft on occasions but never malign."
Michael Fabricant, who was sacked as Conservative party vice-chairman on Wednesday, wrote on Twitter: "Wonderful news that Nigel Evans has been acquitted on all counts. The party whip must now be restored to him without delay!"
Conservative MP for Preseli Pembrokeshire Stephen Crabb tweeted: "So pleased for my friend Nigel Evans today. A good man. Horrid experience to go through."
Fellow Conservative MP Peter Bone said police and prosecutors faced "serious questions" over their handling of the case.
He tweeted: "Good day for Nigel Evans but why was he charged in the first place? Serious questions for the police and CPS to answer! So pleased for Nigel."
A CPS spokesperson 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."
Lancashire Police said all the evidence had been carefully scrutinised and the force remained committed to investigating accusations, no matter how historical and regardless of the status of the alleged offender.
Mr Evans's trial had heard he raped a man after a dinner party at the MP's home in Pendleton, Lancashire, in March last year.
The 56-year-old MP said the sex with the complainant, aged 22, was consensual.
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.
The jury heard in his defence that these were examples of "drunken over-familiarity" and Mr Evans had no recollection of either event.
The MP gave up the Tory party whip to become deputy speaker, and could potentially have it returned following his acquittal.
A Conservative Party spokesman said: "We are very pleased Nigel Evans has been cleared of all charges after this very difficult time."
Mr Evans, who was born in Swansea and lives in Pendleton, Lancashire, became deputy speaker in June 2010, a politically neutral role.
He resigned from the post after he was charged in September 2013 but continued to represent his constituents as an independent.