Belfast Telegraph

Rugby rape trial verdict: MP Nigel Evans who faced his own 'hell' over sexual assault allegations seeks law change

By Victoria Leonard

A Tory MP who was cleared in one of the most high-profile rape cases of recent years says the naming of men accused of sexual assault should be examined in light of yesterday's verdicts.

And last night DUP MP Ian Paisley said he would be raising the issue in the House of Commons.

In 2014 Nigel Evans - the former Deputy Speaker of the House of Commons and MP for Ribble Valley - was acquitted of raping a university student and sexually assaulting six other men over a 10-year period.

Since his own ordeal he has spoken out to highlight the plight of men who are wrongfully accused of rape.

In 2016 he united with pop star Cliff Richard and broadcaster Paul Gambaccini to call for anonymity for sexual assault defendants.

Both his fellow campaigners have faced sexual assault allegations - although both maintained their innocence and neither was charged.

He believes that the lives of the four men who were on trial in Belfast "will have been incredibly altered for the worse" despite their acquittals.

Speaking outside court yesterday, Paddy Jackson's solicitor Joe McVeigh invited the Lord Chief Justice, the Attorney General, and the Public Prosecution Service to "enter into fresh discussions with us to look at more robust mechanisms that can strike an effective balance between everyone's rights, but that properly secure the integrity of our criminal justice system".

"I would back calls for the Attorney General to examine this case," he said.

"The person who makes the accusations gets anonymity for life.

"These guys (the accused) have gone through a public hell.

"We need to get equality of status for those who make accusations and those who have allegations made against them.

"Some countries have anonymity until conviction.

"My empathy is with the men, and I know how they will have felt when they heard the verdicts.

"They will feel a mixture of relief at the verdict, and anger that they had to go through this process."

Mr Evans said he believed that the men should have the money they spent on their legal defence reimbursed, and that the emotional burden of the trial would stay with them for a long time to come.

Paul Gambaccini, Cliff Richard and Nigel Evans were subject to sex claims
Paul Gambaccini, Cliff Richard and Nigel Evans were subject to sex claims

"They will carry this with them for the rest of their lives," he added.

"It doesn't end with the trial. They have gone through this in the full glare of publicity.

"Social media adds to the trauma. It's awful for the wrongfully accused to read the comments of people who know nothing sitting in judgment.

"The jurors in such trials are told not to go on social media, but it's hard for people not to see all the comments made in high-profile cases.

"I think that social media has got to be reviewed."

The MP said that the Belfast trial had caused him to relive his own legal case, which he previously described as "11 months of hell".

"They are acquitted and have no stain on their characters, so I hope that their friends and families will give them the support that they need," he added. "This trial has brought my own experience back home to me, and it will be the same for them.

"They will have been taken to the very edge. They will have been going through this process since the day the police knocked on the door. They will have had feelings of hopelessness.

"I relive what happened to me, and they will relive it every time they pick up a paper and see something similar to the hell they have been through."

He said it would take a while for those cleared yesterday to get back to normal, and that they has faced a "long journey."

"I hope the men are now able to get their lives back to somewhere near normal, but nothing will ever be the same for them," he added.

Meanwhile, North Antrim MP Mr Paisley said defendants should only be identified if convicted.

"It is clear now - more than it has ever been - that a change to the law is required for rape trials," he argued.

"No party should be identified in advance of the verdict and only then when there is a guilty verdict.

"I will be raising this matter in Parliament."

Belfast Telegraph

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