UK Parliament's deputy speaker arrested on rape charges
London: Deputy speaker of Britain's lower house of parliament and Conservative gay lawmaker Nigel Evans has been arrested by police for allegedly raping a man and sexually assaulting another.
Detectives visited his home in Pendleton, Lancashire, yesterday following allegations by two men who were in their 20s at the time of the alleged attacks, which are said to have taken place at the property in July 2009 and March 2013.
The house was searched by officers and Deputy House of Commons speaker Evans was held in custody at Preston police station. He was subsequently released on bail till June 19.
British Prime Minister David Cameron is understood to have been informed about the arrest of the 55-year-old MP for Ribble Valley, one of the few Tory strongholds in the north.
Commons speaker John Bercow last night said: "It's been a total shock. Nigel is a popular and well-liked character. No one can quite believe what's happened."
Evans today denied the allegations that he raped a man and sexually assaulted another, describing the claims as "completely false".
Speaking outside his home in Pendleton, Lancashire, he today expressed his "incredulity" at the allegations made by two men he had regarded as "friends".
"Yesterday I was interviewed by the police concerning two complaints, one of which dates back four years, involving two people well known to each other and who, until yesterday, I regarded as friends," Evans said.
"The complaints are completely false. I cannot understand why they were made, especially as I continued to socialise with one as recently as last week," he said.
"I appreciate the way police have handled this in a sensitive manner and I would like to thank my colleagues, friends and members of the public who have continued to express their support and, like me, a sense of incredulity at these events," he added.
Evans is openly gay, having come out as homosexual in 2010, the year he was elected to his current post.
His statement came shortly after Defence Secretary Philip Hammond admitted it would be "very difficult" for Evans to carry on as deputy speaker while the matter was being investigated.
"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," Hammond said.
Hammond said that Evans' position was one for the Speaker to consider. The Defence Secretary also expressed his shock at the allegations, saying: "I know Nigel well, I have known him for years. I'm obviously as shocked as everybody else is".
In the 2010 general election Evans retained his seat with a majority of 14,769 over Labour, with UKIP making a then strong showing in fourth place with 3,496, or 6.7 per cent of the vote.
Lancashire police said: "A 55-year-old man from Pendleton in Lancashire has been arrested on Saturday by Lancashire Constabulary on suspicion of rape and sexual assault".
This is the latest, and potentially most explosive, in a series of high-profile arrests over allegations of a sexual nature, some of which go back more than 40 years.
There have been wild rumours about the involvement of politicians, but until now, none had been arrested.