David Cameron has hinted that Nigel Evans will be brought back into the Tory fold as he joined those welcoming news that the MP had been cleared of sex offence charges.
The Prime Minister said it was “hard to imagine the relief” that the former deputy speaker was feeling after “such a traumatic time”.
“I very much welcome what he said on the steps of the court and I think everyone should pay heed to that,” Mr Cameron said.
“I’m sure he will want to get on with working with his constituents in the Ribble Valley and, as for the future, I’m sure it’s something he’ll be discussing with the chief whip when he returns to Parliament.”
A jury at Preston Crown Court unanimously found Evans, 56, not guilty of one count of rape, five sexual assaults, one attempted sexual assault and two indecent assaults.
The MP gave up the Conservative whip to become deputy speaker, and then had to resign that post when he was charged.
Local party members said they were “delighted” by the outcome.
Association chairman Michael Ranson said: “We are delighted that the jury has returned a not-guilty verdict on all the charges that were brought against Nigel.
“The last 12 months have been very difficult for Nigel, his family and Ribble Valley Conservative Association.
“Nigel always assured us he was innocent of the charges and we are delighted that the court has found in his favour.”
Michael Fabricant, who was sacked as a party vice-chairman yesterday, was among the Tory MPs greeting the verdicts.
“WONDERFUL news that Nigel Evans has been acquitted on all counts,” he wrote on Twitter. “The Party Whip must now be restored to him without delay!”
Stephen Crabb wrote: “So pleased for my friend Nigel Evans today. A good man. Horrid experience to go through.”
There were also good wishes from international development minister Alan Duncan, Nadine Dorries and John Randall.
Mark Pritchard joined calls for the justice system to come under scrutiny for the handling of the case.
“Lancashire Police and Crown Prosecution Service have some serious questions to answer,” he posted.
And Alun Cairns compared it with recent high-profile not-guilty verdicts in cases involving Coronation Street actors Michael Le Vell and William Roache.
“Surely prosecutors have questions to answer in Nigel Evans case, after Roach & Le Vell,” he wrote.
There was support too from the Labour benches.
Austin Mitchell posted: “There is some justice. Well not done Nigel. Happy for you.”
Robert Rams, Mr Evans’s former chief of staff, said: “I spent seven years working for Nigel Evans MP, travelling the world with him. He has always been so very kind to me and I am so pleased for him.
“He is a true gentleman and has acted with dignity throughout this. I look forward to seeing him soon and for him to rebuild his career.”
A Tory spokesman said: “We are very pleased Nigel Evans has been cleared of all charges after this very difficult time.”