Speakers back sex case MP Evans

This Is Lancashire: Nigel Evans denies one rape, two indecent assaults, five sexual assaults and one attempted sexual assault Nigel Evans denies one rape, two indecent assaults, five sexual assaults and one attempted sexual assault

The three deputy speakers of the Commons have joined parliamentary colleagues in giving testimonials to MP Nigel Evans at his rape and sex assault trial.

Evans stood down from his role as deputy speaker after the allegations were levelled against him.

Lindsay Hoyle, Dawn Primarolo and Eleanor Laing, who replaced Evans, were among those who gave character references which were read out at the MP's trial at Preston Crown Court.

MPs Glenda Jackson, John Whittingdale, Ann Clywd, Liam Fox and Barry Sheerman, ex-MP Anne Widdecombe and several lords also gave testimonials.

A number of Evans's Ribble Valley constituents also testified, including a local vicar who said he was "shocked" when the MP was charged.

Evans, 56, denies sexually abusing seven young men on various dates between 2002 and last year by using his "powerful" political influence to take advantage of them, often while drunk.

The MP was one of three deputy speakers elected by his parliamentary colleagues in 2010, along with Speaker John Bercow.

Mr Hoyle, who took office at the same time, said in his testimonial that the deputy speakers all supported each other in their office duties.

He said: "I found Nigel to be a dedicated and supportive colleague. I know Nigel is liked and well respected by members across the House, including myself."

Mrs Primarolo said: "As a member of the deputy speakers team, Nigel has been a kind and considerate colleague. He is a well-liked member of the House of Commons. I found him friendy and helpful to work with."

Ms Laing said: "He is witty, wise, hard-working and intelligent. I have always valued him as a trusted friend."

Ms Jackson referred to Evans's "innate humour" and "sense of fair play" as he excelled in his role as deputy speaker.

Ms Widdecombe said: "I have no hesitation in giving this reference. He has shown himself to be truthful, considerate, kind and gentle. Such qualities at Westminster are not universal."

The Rev Andy Froud, vicar of St Mary Magdalene CE Church in Clitheroe, said Evans was known locally as "a hard-working MP who will champion the cause of constituents".

He added: "I was shocked by the charges brought against him."

Evans has pleaded not guilty to one rape, two indecent assaults, five sexual assaults and one attempted sexual assault.

Dr Fox said he had known Evans for more than 20 years. He said: "Throughout that time I have always known him to be extremely diligent and committed in his public duties."

He added he had never known him to show any "aggressive behaviour" and considered him "a very affable individual".

Mr Sheerman said he had known Evans as a young undergraduate student when he was a university lecturer in Swansea. He said: "He has always been the most mild-mannered of people.

"I was proud when he was elected to become deputy speaker. I was shocked when the allegations against him emerged."

Mr Whittingdale said he too was "shocked" to hear of the allegations. He added: "I have never seen him force himself upon anyone.

"Mrs Clwyd spoke of Evans's duties at the Inter Parliamentary Union, a group which focuses on worldwide parliamentary dialogue.

She said: "Nigel has always been naturally sociable and friendly, and was invaluable in making links with other nationalities."

MP Sir Edward Garnier, also a QC, said the office of deputy speaker was "a treasured gift" which Evans served with "calm authority" and "impeccable fairness".

He went on: "He is gregarious and enjoys a social life with people of both sexes and of all ages."

Lord Alton of Liverpool, who lives in Evans's constituency, said the MP was "well-liked" on all sides of Parliament and was regarded as "scrupulously fair" during his time as deputy speaker.

Lord Foulkes of Cumnock said he had "always respected his integrity and ability".

Lord Dobbs of Wylye, author of the House of Cards novel, said: "He is extremely sociable and gregarious. I regard him as a man of integrity. Someone I can trust both professionally and personally."

Former Tory MP for Kingswood, Robert Hayward said he had never received a complaint about Evans while attending various social events.He said: "On the contrary, people want Nigel to be a friend because he is such good fun."

Steve Bateman, a friend of 30 years, said: "Nigel is an extremely sociable individual. He has a remarkable ability to entertain those around him and the ability to make people feel good about themselves."

Constituent Dorothy Cosgrove said: "Nigel has served Ribble Valley as a superb representative in the Ribble Valley and London. His commitment has never waned, even in the 12 months he has had to endure."

Radio presenter and blogger Iain Dale said: "Nigel is one of those rare politicians who has not changed at all since he was elected. Politics has not changed him one iota."

The mayor of Clitheroe, Kevin Horkin, said: "I believe Nigel Evans's record as a hard-working and diligent MP stands proud on its own merits. He is extremely well thought of locally. He is without doubt a truly selfless individual and an asset to our town."

Political lobby journalist Adel Darwish said: "He is a decent gentleman. I cannot recall him ever doing or saying anything negative about anyone, or even stabbing another politician in the back."

Richard Frediani, ITV News programme editor, said he had known Evans since 1991 when he was a radio reporter and regarded him as "a very good, true friend".

Giving his reference in a personal capacity, he added that he trusted Evans "implicitly".

The trial continues tomorrow.

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