Former Commons deputy speaker Nigel Evans has been cleared of rape and all other sexual assault charges.

Mr Evans, 56, denied rape, two indecent assaults, five sexual assaults and an attempted sexual assault against seven young men from 2003 to 2013.

The former deputy speaker, who remains an independent MP for Ribble Valley in Lancashire, was found not guilty after a trial at Preston Crown Court on Thursday.

Mr Evans always maintained his innocence. The gay MP was first arrested in May last year.

The rape complainant, aged 22, told the jury he was assaulted by Mr Evans after a dinner party at the defendant’s home in Pendleton, Lancashire, in March last year.

But the 56-year-old MP said the sex was consensual.

Friends of Mr Evans cheered as the foreman of the jury read out the last of the not guilty verdicts having deliberated for five hours and 45 minutes.

Among those who were present to support him was former Coronation Street actress Vicky Entwhistle, who was also seen in tears.

He resigned as deputy speaker in September last year after being charged.

During the trial testimonials from a whole series of Westminster figures were read out in court in support of Mr Evans.

Labour MP Barry 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.

Former Tory MP Ann Widdecombe said: “He has shown himself to be truthful, considerate, kind and gentle. Such qualities at Westminster are not universal.”

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, who previously voted against gay rights, while in the closet, for many years has been a prominent and passionate supporter of LGBT issues in Parliament. He described supporting Section 28 as his “neanderthal phase.”

In an interview with PinkNews in 2011 after he came out, Mr Evans said: “I’ve thrown away 35 years of my life.”