An MP is to go on trial accused of a historic sex offence in Blackpool.
Nigel Evans, the former deputy speaker of the House of Commons and the MP for Ribble Valley, is accused of two counts of indecent assault, five of sexual assault and one of rape.
One of the alleged indecent assault offences is said to have taken place in Blackpool between 1 January 2002 and 1 January 2004.
Evans appeared in the dock at Preston Crown Court today for a preliminary hearing where his trial date was fixed.
His lawyer, Peter Wright QC, emphasised there will be a trial, with the MP having previously emphatically denied all charges.
Evans, who spoke only to confirm his name, was told to go into the dock of the court when he appeared in the courtroom at the start of the 10-minute hearing.
He was asked to hand over his mobile phone by the court security guard and disappeared briefly into a holding room behind the dock, out of view of the courtroom, before the judge came in and the hearing began.
A trial, lasting around four weeks, was set for March 10 next year. The charges relate to seven men, who are alleged victims of Evans.
The indecent assaults are alleged to have been committed between January 1 2002 and January 1 2004; the sexual assaults - said to be touching without consent - between January 1 2009 and April 1 this year; and the rape between March 29 and April 1 this year.
Evans resigned as deputy speaker of the House of Commons after he was charged on September 10. A pre-trial plea and case management hearing was also set for January 24.
Mr Justice Timothy King granted Evans bail until that hearing on condition of non-contact with any alleged victims. He said: “The trial is now fixed for 10 March 2014 at Preston Crown Court, estimated for four weeks.
“I will grant you bail to attend court on the next occasion on those conditions.”
Evans replied “Thank you” before he left the dock. He made no further comment.
The Swansea-born MP, who lives in Pendleton, Lancashire, was one of three deputy speakers elected in a secret ballot of MPs in 2010. Later that year he came out as gay, saying he was “tired of living a lie”.
Evans was a vice-chairman of the Conservative Party from 1999 to 2001.
As deputy speaker, he sat as an independent MP but he will not take the Conservative whip and will sit as an independent MP for his constituency.