Senior British politician cleared of sex offences

Nigel Evans, a former deputy speaker of Britain's parliament, has been cleared of sexual assault and a rape charge and said afterwards he had been through 11 months of ''hell''.

The 56-year-old openly gay lawmaker, who was vice chairman of British Prime Minister David Cameron's Conservative Party from 1999 to 2001, had been accused of offences against seven young men, including alleged incidents inside the Houses of Parliament. He had been accused of using his ''powerful'' political influence to take advantage of the men.

However, he was found not guilty of all charges on Thursday. A jury at Preston Crown Court found Mr Evans not guilty of one count of rape, five sexual assaults, one attempted sexual assault and two indecent assaults.

The rape complainant, aged 22, had told the court he was raped and sexually assaulted by Mr Evans after a dinner party at the defendant's home in March last year, but the politician said the sex was consensual.

Peter Wright, Mr Evans' defence lawyer, suggested the complainant had fabricated his evidence because he regretted having sex with a man more than twice his age.

Mr Evans' defence team also pointed out inconsistencies in witness accounts and questioned the credibility of several of the accounts of alleged assaults.

As Mr Evans was cleared, his supporters in court let out a gasp of relief and some burst into tears. Told he could leave the dock, Mr Evans bowed to the jury and said: ''Thank you.''

''This is not a time for celebration or euphoria … there are no winners,'' Mr Evans said after the verdict. ''I have gone through 11 months of hell. Nothing will ever be the same again.''

He declined to answer questions on whether he would try to resume his political career. Mr Evans resigned as deputy Commons speaker when he was charged in September last year.

Mr Cameron welcomed the news, Bloomberg reported, and said he expected Mr Evans, who resigned his post when he was charged, would want to discuss rejoining the Conservative Party on his return to Parliament, rather than sitting as an independent.

Reuters, AFP

This story Senior British politician cleared of sex offences first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.