Testimonials from a whole series of Westminster figures, including former MP Ann Widdecombe, have been read out in court at the trial of former deputy speaker Nigel Evans.

Mr Evans denies rape, two indecent assaults and six sexual assaults.

The Ribble Valley MP is alleged to have committed the offences against seven men between 2002 and last year.

The three deputy speakers of the Commons, Lindsay Hoyle, Dawn Primarolo and Eleanor Laing, who replaced Nigel Evans in the post, were among those who gave character references on Wednesday.

Preston Crown Court also heard testimonials from MPs Glenda Jackson (Labour), John Whittingdale (Conservative), Ann Clwyd (Labour), Liam Fox (Conservative) and Barry Sheerman (Labour) plus ex-Tory MP Ann Widdecombe.

Mr Sheerman said he had known Mr Evans as a young undergraduate student when he was a university lecturer in Swansea. He said: “He has always been the most mild-mannered of people.

“I was proud when he was elected to become deputy speaker. I was shocked when the allegations against him emerged.”

Ms Widdecombe said: “I have no hesitation in giving this reference. He has shown himself to be truthful, considerate, kind and gentle. Such qualities at Westminster are not universal.”

Mr Hoyle said: “I found Nigel to be a dedicated and supportive colleague. I know Nigel is liked and well respected by members across the House, including myself.”

Mrs Primarolo said: “As a member of the deputy speakers team, Nigel has been a kind and considerate colleague. He is a well-liked member of the House of Commons. I found him friendy and helpful to work with.”

Ms Laing said: “He is witty, wise, hard-working and intelligent. I have always valued him as a trusted friend.”

Ms Jackson referred to Nr Evans’s “innate humour” and “sense of fair play” as he excelled in his role as deputy speaker.

Mr Evans stood down from his role after the allegations were levelled against him last year.

Former defence secretary Liam Fox said he had known Mr Evans for more than 20 years. He said: “Throughout that time I have always known him to be extremely diligent and committed in his public duties.”

He added he had never known him to show any “aggressive behaviour” and considered him “a very affable individual”.

LBC radio presenter Iain Dale said: “Nigel is one of those rare politicians who has not changed at all since he was elected. Politics has not changed him one iota.”

Mr Evans denies one count of rape, two of indecent assault and six of sexual assault.

The trial continues.

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