British parliament deputy speaker denies gay rape charge
LONDON - Agence France-Presse
British Conservative MP and Deputy House of Commons Speaker Nigel Evans speaks during a news conference in Pendleton, northern England May 5, 2013. REUTERS photoA deputy speaker of Britain's lower house of parliament said Sunday that allegations of raping one man and sexually assaulting another were "completely false", adding that he had previously regarded both men as friends.
Nigel Evans, 55, a lawmaker in Prime Minister David Cameron's Conservative Party, issued the denial a day after he was questioned over the alleged attacks on two men in their twenties.
"Yesterday, I was interviewed by the police concerning two complaints, one of which dates back four years, made by two people who are well known to each other and until yesterday, I regarded as friends," Evans said in a statement to the media outside his home.
"The complaints are completely false and I cannot understand why they have been made, especially as I have continued to socialise with one as recently as last week.
"I appreciate the way the police have handled this in such a sensitive manner and I would like to thank my colleagues, friends and members of the public who have expressed their support and, like me, a sense of incredulity at these events." His solicitor said afterwards that Evans was not intending to resign either as deputy speaker or as a member of parliament.
Evans revealed he was gay in 2010, eight years after he was elected, saying he was "tired of living a lie".
He represents Ribble Valley in Lancashire, northwest England, and is one of the House of Commons' three deputy speakers, who are responsible for maintaining discipline in parliament in the absence of the speaker, John Bercow.
Lancashire Police confirmed that a 55-year-old man had been arrested on suspicion of rape and sexual assault and that he had been released on bail until June 19.
Police said the alleged attacks took place in the village of Pendleton, where Evans lives, between July 2009 and March 2013.
Evans is a popular figure at Westminster, well-liked by lawmakers across the political spectrum. His arrest stunned fellow Conservatives.
"It's right to point out, and for me as a long-standing friend of his, to point out that he is a very popular and well-respected member of parliament and deputy speaker," Foreign Secretary William Hague told Sky News.
But defence minister Philip Hammond suggested it would be "quite difficult" for Evans to carry on in his "sensitive and high profile role" as deputy speaker while fighting the allegations.