Tory MP makes statement following his arrest over claims he raped one man and sexually assaulted another
Nigel Evans, the deputy speaker of the House of Commons, has vehemently denied that he raped one man and sexually assaulted another (video).
He issued his denial to reporters in the garden of the village pub beside his home in Pendleton, near Clitheroe, Lancashire.
He said: “Yesterday I was interviewed by the police concerning two complaints, one of which dates back four years, made by two people who are well known to each other and who until yesterday I regarded as friends.
“The allegations are completely false and I can’t understand why they have been made, especially as I have continued to socialise with one as recently as last week.
“I appreciate the way the police have handled this in such a sensitive manner, and I’d like to thank my colleagues, friends and members of the public who have expressed their support and – like me – a sense of incredulity at these events.”
Evans will not be making a statement to the House of Commons. He has told aides that he has no intention of standing down either as an MP or as deputy speaker.
A friend said: “This is an inquiry that is ongoing. He’ll be back in the house for the Queen’s speech on Wednesday.”
Evans issued his statement in the rear garden of The Swan With Two Necks. He is a regular at the pub.
Evans emerged from a large black door at the edge of the pub garden, having climbed the steps from his two-bedroom terraced cottage.
The deputy speaker stood beside an outdoor heater to read his statement. A cockerel was crowing in the croft beside his home and an ornamental squirrel sat on the wall in the background.
It was made clear beforehand that he would not be taking any questions. His only deviation from that decision was to said he was “OK” when asked how he felt.
A friend said later: “He’s obviously very shaken up by this.” Evans is understood to have spent the night at a friend’s house elsewhere in the constituency.
Evans spoke briefly to the media again later in the afternoon before going for his “Sunday lunch pint” in the pub next door to his house.
He said it had been – notwithstanding the “very recent loss” of his brother – “the worst 24 hours of my life”.
But he thanked his friends and supporters for their support.
He also paid tribute to his “wonderful” village and for all the messages of support he had received on Facebook.
He added: “I am so grateful and it’s that support that is really helping me get through this. I would just like to thank, from the bottom of my heart, everyone who has sent me a message. Thank you very much.”
Lancashire police arrested Evans on Saturday over allegations that he raped one man and sexually assaulted another man between July 2009 and March this year. He has been released on bail until 19 June.
A statement on the Ribble Valley Conservatives Association website said they expected Evans to continue with his duties in the constituency as normal.
It said: “Nigel Evans MP has represented the Ribble Valley Constituency with distinction for 21 years. He is widely liked and respected by his constituents for whom he has worked tirelessly.
“The officers and members of the Ribble Valley Conservative Association have got to know and respect him and are shocked about his arrest.
“We are believers in the rule of law and are aware that these are merely allegations.
“The police and CPS have yet to decide if they are going to press charges.
“Nigel has now made a statement that the allegations are ‘completely false and he cannot understand why they have been brought’.
“In our democracy everyone accused is innocent until proven guilty and therefore unless Nigel chooses himself to cease to be our MP or the electorate vote him out or justice system intervenes, we expect him to continue as normal to fulfil his duties in representing the people of the Ribble Valley.”
It was reported that Speaker John Bercow had agreed to a request from Evans that he should be excused his duties chairing the Queen’s Speech debate in the Commons on Wednesday due to the “inevitable added time pressure” that had been placed upon him.
Philip Hammond, the defence secretary, said he was “very shocked” by the allegations but suggested that it would be difficult for Evans to continue in the “sensitive and high-profile role” as deputy speaker while he fights the allegations.
Asked on the Andrew Marr Show on BBC1 what he had thought when he heard the allegations, Hammond said: “Very shocked. I know Nigel very well. I have known him for years. I am shocked as everyone else by the revelations in this morning’s papers.”
Asked whether Evans could remain as deputy speaker while he fights the allegations, Hammond said: “That is a very interesting question. That is essentially a question for the Speaker. Obviously Nigel is denying the accusations. I stick rigidly to the view that we should treat people as innocent until they are proven guilty. But it is quite difficult to carry out a sensitive and high-profile role while being under this kind of scrutiny.”
Speaking to Dermot Murnaghan on Sky News, the foreign secretary, William Hague, said: “Of course we are all very limited about what we can all say about this, it’s subject to legal proceedings.
“It’s right to point out, and for me as a long-standing friend of his, to point out that he is a very popular and well-respected member of parliament and deputy speaker – I think that is true across the House of Commons actually, for MPs of all parties, so we will all be very sorry to see this situation.
“It’s not possible for us to comment in more detail on something subject to legal proceedings.”
Evans has been MP for the Lancashire constituency since 1992. A popular figure at Westminster, in June 2010 he was elected as one of the three Commons deputy speakers. Later that year he came out as gay, saying that he was “tired of living a lie”.
Brian Binley, the Tory MP for Northampton South and a friend of Evans, said: “I was just deeply disturbed and shocked. I’ve known him ever since I’ve been in parliament, and I came in in 2005. I consider him to be a very good friend. I know him to be caring, compassionate and in no way would he inflict himself violently on any other person.
“He is a good enough friend to have come up last Friday to a fundraiser my partner, Sally, and I were holding for Macmillan nurses and so I do know him well. I just hope and pray that this thing is cleared up sooner rather than later.”
Michael Ranson, chairman of the Ribble Valley Conservative Association, said people in the constituency were “completely shell-shocked” at the news.
“He is a very popular MP and a very good constituency MP. He’s given assistance to a lot of his constituents over many years,” he told Sky News. “Everybody’s completely shell-shocked.”
Evans was a vice-chairman of the Conservative party from 1999 to 2001. When Iain Duncan Smith became party leader in 2001, he was promoted to the shadow cabinet as shadow Welsh secretary, a post he held for two years.
When he came out, Evans told the Mail on Sunday that he been threatened with exposure by political opponents. “I could not afford it to be used as leverage against me. I couldn’t take the risk. I don’t want any other MP to face that kind of nastiness again,” he told the paper. “I am sure there are other gay MPs who would like to be open about their sexuality but are fearful of the consequences.”
A Lancashire police spokeswoman said: “We take all allegations of a sexual nature extremely seriously and understand how difficult it can be for victims to have the confidence to come forward. As a constabulary, we are committed to investigating sexual offences sensitively but robustly recognising the impact that these types of crimes have on victims.
“We would encourage anyone who has experienced sexual abuse, or who has information about it, to have the confidence to report it to us knowing that we will take it seriously, deal with it sensitively and investigate it thoroughly.”