The former deputy speaker of Britain's House of Commons has been cleared of raping a university student and sexually assaulting six other men over a 10-year period.
Conservative MP Nigel Evans was found not guilty of all nine counts following a five-week trial at Preston crown court, where he was accused of abusing his power to sexually assault young Commons workers between 2003 and March last year.
There were sobs and shouts of "yes" from the public gallery as the verdicts were read.
Evans has maintained his innocence since his high-profile arrest last May, insisting that the alleged incidents simply did not happen or were the result of misread signals. The most damaging allegation, of rape, was in fact consensual sex, the MP said.
Throughout the five-week trial, Evans and his eclectic group of supporters listened as the prosecution accused the 56-year-old MP of abusing his power and sexually assaulting men half his age in settings including Commons bars and the Conservative party conference.
But it was in his constituency home in Pendleton, Lancashire, where Evans was alleged to have raped a 21-year-old student following a dinner party last March. In the witness box, Evans appeared on the verge of tears as he spoke of the "absolute hell" of the trial and insisted that the encounter was entirely consensual.
His barrister, Peter Wright QC, pointed to a series of inconsistencies between what the student told officers and what he told the jury - there was no pushing on to the bed, no forcible undoing of trousers, no struggle to push his attacker off. In fact the truth was the young man had consented to have sex with a man more than twice his age, jurors were told.
Wright added: "In the cold light of day, the complainant may regret what had taken place and how far it had actually gone. But such sentiments are some considerable distance removed from an incident of sexual assault and rape. He gave every indication of consent. Now he seeks to turn the clock back.
"Saving his conscience is not the basis on which to convict a man of rape and sexual assault."
Evans told the court he decided to announce himself as gay in a Mail on Sunday article in 2010 because he was tired of "living a lie". The Swansea-born MP said he had known he was gay since before he entered parliament, in 1992, but had a long period of celibacy before actively seeking sexual relationships in the early 2000s. In 2003, it was claimed that Evans indecently assaulted two men in their 20s when he approached them while drunk and put his hand down their trousers - one in a Soho bar and the other at a hotel during the 2003 Tory party conference.
Wright, for Evans, said: "We say these earlier alleged incidents did not amount to much then and do not do so now."
Evans resigned as Commons deputy speaker last September when the Crown Prosecution Service announced he was to be charged.