“Nothing will be the same again.”
Those were the emotional words of Ribble Valley MP Nigel Evans as he walked free from court yesterday, cleared of allegations he had sexually assaulted seven young men.
Mr Evans told the scores of press waiting outside Preston Crown Court that he had been through “11 months of hell”, at the conclusion of his trial.
A decision has yet to be taken as to whether the former Conservative MP will return to the party to stand as its next Ribble Valley candidate, after he became an independent as deputy speaker. However, Prime Minister David Cameron hinted last night Mr Evans will be brought back into the Tory fold.
Less than an hour after the tearful politician left the dock, he thanked his supporters in Lancashire, Westminster and further afield.
He said: “I’ve not been alone. Many have walked with me, including my team at Clitheroe and Westminster, my constituency association, my family, my friends, my constituents and indeed many people who I don’t even know have sent messages of support. In my darkest and loneliest times, there were only two or one set of footprints in the sand. Those of you of faith will know, they weren’t mine.
“The fact is I’ve got work to do. It’s the work that I’ve done for the last 22 years so this isn’t a time for celebration or euphoria.
“(Actor) Bill Roache just a few weeks ago, from this very spot, said there are no winners in these cases and that’s absolutely right.
“There are no winners, so no celebrations.
“But the fact is I’ve got work to do, work that I’ve done for the last 22 years.”
Michael Ranson, chairman of the local Conservative Party group, said a meeting will take place in coming weeks to establish whether there is a future role for Mr Evans in the Ribble Valley Conservative Party.
Should Mr Evans ask to return to the party, there will be a reselection meeting during which a decision will be taken as to whether he will stand for election.
Coun Ken Hind, chairman of the Ribble Valley Conservative Association, said: “We’re really delighted about what has happened.
“We’re glad for him and look forward to a happier time in the Ribble Valley, with our MP able to function properly.”
Coun Hind said that Mr Evans’s membership of the Conservative Party had never been rescinded, as association members waited for legal proceedings to take place.
He added: “We never pre-judged him. We’ve worked with him for years and feel now that he has been vindicated.”
Chorley Labour MP and Deputy Speaker of the House of Commons Lindsay Hoyle said: “We’re all very pleased for Nigel.
“It keeps your faith in the jury system and we are looking forward to seeing him back in Westminster.”
As the jury foreman returned unanimous not guilty verdicts on all counts against Mr Evans, the MP’s sense of relief was visible.
Mr Evans wept in the dock, covering his face with his hands as his name was cleared.
A number of his supporters who have sat through proceedings from the public gallery also broke down as their friend and colleague walked free from court.
Throughout the trial dozens of witnesses have paid testimony to the popular and sociable MP’s good character.
Some of the men who found themselves giving evidence on behalf of the prosecution described Mr Evans as “a thoroughly good egg” and said they had offered their support to him when they heard he had been arrested.