In Depth

'Sexminster' victim Nigel Evans urges abuse case time limit

Former Deputy Speaker believes we need statute of limitations – and anonymity for those accused

NIGEL EVANS, the openly gay former Deputy Speaker of the Commons who was cleared of sex charges last week, has launched a campaign for a time limit to be introduced in Britain on “historic” sex allegations. 

He also called this morning for the law on anonymity to be extended from the victims to the alleged offenders.

“The people who are throwing the mud remain anonymous… yet I was put into the full glare of world publicity from day one,” he said.

Together, these two changes in the law could put an end to the celebrity sex trials based on unproven “historic” allegations. In the wake of the Jimmy Savile scandal, a string of celebrities have faced public vilification because of the Crown Prosecution Service's decision to pursue sex offence claims going back over 30 years. Among those subsequently cleared was the Coronation Street actor William Roche.

Evans said on ITV's Daybreak that he would be asking the CPS to repay the £130,000 it cost him in legal fees to clear his name. And he said it was time for Britain to follow the United States and most other European countries in bringing in a statute of limitations for sex abuse accusations.

Britain has time limits for most other offences, but no time limit on sex offences. The average limit across Europe is 12 years, with 20 years in cases where the alleged victim is under age.

The Tory MP, on a round of interviews this morning, told Radio 4's Today programme that his ordeal had been like “being hit by an Eddie Stobart truck as soon as you wake up, and several times during the day”. 

Evans said he had asked Keith Vaz, Labour chairman of the Commons home affairs select committee, to investigate the case for extending anonymity. "The people who bring allegations have anonymity for the rest of their lives and yet those who are accused... they do not. Their names are out there immediately.

"It may well be the committee could have a look at whether there should be some form of equanimity, whether it should be anonymity up to charge, up to trial, whatever it happens to be."

On Friday, Director of Public Prosecutions Alison Saunders defended the decision to prosecute Evans and said the CPS applied the "same test no matter who the offender or the victim is".

Saunders went on: "We looked at all the evidence and decided there was a realistic prospect of conviction." 

Meanwhile the allegations in the Evans case of a culture of heavy drinking and sexual abuse at Westminster are increasing pressure on the 'Palace of Sexminster' to clean up its act. 

The government whips office has proposed that a new system of complaints should be introduced in Parliament for MPs’ staff to blow the whistle on sexual harassment in the House. 

Graham Brady, chairman of the 1922 Committee of Tory MPs, admitted on the Today programme that “clearly there is a problem”. But he opposed the whips’ proposals. He said he would be offering Tory MPs advice about how to provide a grievance procedure for their staff.

Brady’s opposition to the whips’ plans shows how much difficulty the reformers could have in changing the drinking-and-sex culture at the Commons.

While Evans has been welcomed back into the Tory fold, he has decided not to ask for his Deputy Speaker role back. He'll be on the back benches when MPs return to 'Sexminster' from their Easter holidays on 28 April.

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