Nigel Evans case: justice has been seen to be done

Ribble Valley MP Nigel Evans
Ribble Valley MP Nigel Evans

Even before Nigel Evans MP was acquitted by a unanimous jury of all nine sexual offences he was charged with, some serious questions were being asked about whether the case should have ever come to court.

It’s not hard to see why. Right from the off, the prosecution evidence against him seemed patchy at best, laughable at worst.

Some prosecution witnesses told the court they had never considered the drunken and clumsy passes which Mr Evans had made as much as a decade ago to be anything more than an embarrassing faux pas, certainly not a criminal offence. One, who had remained friends with Mr Evans, said he was “astonished” to find himself in the witness box.

As the case progressed to the most serious charge of rape, the prosecution evidence seemed so flimsy it fell apart at the slightest touch. The alleged victim had told one story to the police but another in court, admitting he had earlier embellished his version of events for “dramatic effect”.

This allegation, of rape, was the one which anyone who knows Mr Evans found hardest to accept from the very beginning. It simply didn’t fit with everything people knew about his personality or even, for that matter, his less-than-powerful physique.

As the trial moved on it appeared more and more that the police and CPS had been presented with one central and very serious allegation against Mr Evans, but one which was perilously weak and needed to be shored up.

And so they had gone digging – trawling through Mr Evans’ past to seize on earlier incidents which might convince a jury of a pattern of behaviour which could have culminated in a rape.

This trawling exercise brought to the stand a series of often reluctant witnesses who, while they told of inappropriate and drunken behaviour, had not considered it in any way criminal either then or now.

Other allegations of indecent assault Mr Evans denied outright, as he had with all the charges from the very start, and links between some of the alleged victims gave weight to his defence team’s claim of a co-ordinated conspiracy against him.

Yet we only know all this because it came to court. While it must have been excruciating for Mr Evans to have the most intimate details of his private life laid bare, at least he has been cleared of criminal blame in the full glare of publicity.

If the victim’s claim of rape had not been taken seriously by the police, and prosecuted by the CPS, he might have felt so let down by the system he would make that claim elsewhere, perhaps in the papers, or through social media.

And what could have followed then? Rumours of a cover up, of powerful influence used to keep people silent, hints and implications of serious corruption. All unfounded, but in many ways harder to defend that clear-cut allegations made in open court.

To be fair to the CPS, even if something is done in drink; if the person who did it does not remember doing it; and even if the person it was done to did not consider it serious – despite all that, the “something” in question could still constitute a criminal offence.

And if you believe that to be so, should you not prosecute?

Towards the end of the trial I had no doubt the most serious charges against Mr Evans would fail utterly and completely. They simply did not stand up. But there was another possibility, a darkly ironic one, that the jury might convict him on one or two of the lesser sexual assault charges. His defence argued that “drunken antics” were not “criminal acts”, but what if the jury thought they were?

He could have been cleared of the most serious charges against him, but convicted on a much less serious charge which would never have come to court if not for the ones he was cleared of. And that conviction would just as surely end his political career.

In the event, the jury took a commonsense view, and frankly, who can blame them?

Whether Mr Evans can salvage his career is another debate, and only time will tell. But at least justice has been seen to be done.