MPs’ anger after colleague is cleared of sex charges

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THE Director of Public Prosecutions has defended the decision to prosecute former Commons’ deputy speaker Nigel Evans over a string of sex offence charges, saying victims of such offences do not always consider themselves victims.

Alison Saunders defended the Crown Prosecution Service’s handling of the case against the Conservative MP for Ribble Valley after a jury unanimously cleared him of nine sexual allegations, including one of rape.

His trial had heard that three of his seven alleged victims did not consider an offence had been committed against them, a fourth “had a bit of a giggle” about Mr Evans’ supposed sexual assault on him, while a fifth man wanted to withdraw his allegation as he did not want the MP to be questioned about “a drunken misunderstanding”.

Fellow MPs flocked to his defence following the verdict, and called for the CPS to face serious questions over their handling of the case.

Ms Saunders defended the decision to prosecute the case, saying the CPS did not take “weak” cases.

She said decisions to prosecute are normally based on police documents and video interviews, saying “evidence is tested in court in a way in which we are not able to when we make our decision”.

She continued: “Also what we do know, and there is evidence from Barnardos and others that shows this, is that victims themselves may not always think of themselves as victims, it rather depends on the relationship they are in with their alleged abusers, so if someone is in a position of power, or perhaps we have seen it in grooming cases where victims think they are not victims because their abusers love them and take care of them.

“So I think we should be very careful just to say ‘people don’t think they are victims and therefore they are not’.”

Mr Evans, 56, said during his trial he had been the victim of a “Machiavellian” plot against him.

Former shadow home secretary and East Yorkshire MP David Davis called for the practice of using lesser charges to “reinforce” a more serious one to be looked at, and called for the Attorney General to review the issue urgently.

Conservative former prisons minister Crispin Blunt said the prosecution had been “artificial”.

Meanwhile Conservative MPs are to be given a new code of conduct setting out guidelines on how they should treat staff working in their offices.

Release of the code was held back until after the end of Nigel Evans’ trial to ensure there was no risk of prejudice. The Conservatives said the code, which is being issued on a voluntary basis, was “a basic statement of what should be best practice in the workplace” for Tory MPs and their staff.

The new code is being sent out as a Channel 4 News investigation claimed there was a prevailing “climate of sexual harassment” in Parliament.

Its investigation - which involved interviewing 70 people from “all political parties and sexual orientations” - had found sexual harassment and abuse of power in Parliament was commonplace.

It said young men were more likely to be sexually harassed than women, with 40 per cent of the men interviewed saying they had received unwanted sexual advances.

Commons Speaker John Bercow said bullying and harassment was “completely unacceptable” and that he would now look into whether procedures in Parliament were in need of reform.