One of the most extraordinary sex scandals in the 800-year history of the British Parliament forced a senior Conservative M.P. to resign as deputy speaker Wednesday after he was charged by prosecutors with sex offenses against seven men.
The charges, which range in severity from indecent assault to rape, are alleged to have taken place over the course of a decade against a series of men, some of whom were in their 20s. Members of the House of Commons sat in silence as Nigel Evans, who has been an M.P. for more than 20 years, stood up to give a defiant speech in which he quoted wartime leader Winston Churchill.
Evans, 55, denies all of the allegations made against him and said he would mount a robust defense when the case comes to trial. He said he would stand down as deputy speaker, a nonpartisan role intended to uphold the regulations of the House of Commons, but he will continue to sit as an M.P.
The Crown Prosecution Service has authorized formal charges on eight offenses; two counts of indecent assault, five counts of sexual assault, and one count of rape.
When police first arrested Evans in May as part of an inquiry into alleged sexual offenses, he claimed the accusations had been invented by people he previously "regarded as friends." The offenses were alleged to have taken place in London and in Evans’s home district of Ribble Valley, in northwest England.
The former Tory Party vice chairman came out as a gay in 2010 after claiming he had received threats of blackmail over his sexuality. “I could not afford it to be used as leverage against me,” he said at the time.
On Wednesday, he rose to his feet amid utter silence in the House and told fellow M.P.s that he was not guilty of any of the offenses. “It was one of the happiest days of my life when I was elected deputy speaker,” he said. “Since these allegations I’ve not been able to fully fulfill my duties in the chair, which left me in a land of limbo. None of us were elected to the fine office of member of Parliament to be put in that invidious position, unable to fulfill the reason we were sent here.”
“Winston Churchill said, ‘When you’re going through hell, keep going,’ Sage advice, and so I will see this through to the end, with the support of people who mean so much to me.”
In spite of the serious allegations, John Bercow, the speaker, told M.P.s he was "warmly grateful" for Evans’s work as his deputy. "I have received his resignation with sadness. I wish to thank Nigel for his three years of service to the House as deputy speaker, in which he has proved to be highly competent, fair, and good-humored,” he said.
Evans is scheduled to appear in court in Preston, Lancashire, on September 18. He was charged at a police station in the city on Tuesday night.