Senior British MP 'arrested over gay rape claim'

LONDON (AFP) - A deputy speaker of Britain's lower house of parliament was arrested on Saturday on suspicion of raping one man and sexually assaulting another, according to media reports.

Media said Nigel Evans, a lawmaker in Prime Minister David Cameron's Conservative Party, was questioned over alleged attacks on two men in their twenties over the past four years.

Evans, 55, represents Ribble Valley in Lancashire, north-west England, and is one of the House of Commons' three deputy speakers.

Lancashire Police said in a statement: "A 55-year-old man from Pendleton in Lancashire has today, Saturday, May 4 2013, been arrested by Lancashire Constabulary on suspicion of rape and sexual assault." A spokesman for the force later said the suspect had been released on bail until June 19.

Police said the alleged attacks took place in the village of Pendleton, where Evans lives, between July 2009 and March 2013.

Mr Cameron has reportedly been informed of the arrest.

Evans revealed he was gay in 2010, eight years after he was elected, saying he was "tired of living a lie".

He is a popular figure at Westminster, well-liked by lawmakers across the political spectrum, and his arrest stunned fellow Conservatives.

"Everybody's completely shell-shocked," Michael Ranson, chairman of the Ribble Valley Conservative Association, told Sky News television.

"He is a very popular MP." As a deputy speaker, Evans can stand in for the speaker, who is tasked with keeping order during parliamentary debates.

The Welsh lawmaker was also a vice-chairman of the Conservatives between 1999 and 2001.