Disgraced ex-Sheffield United striker and convicted rapist Ched Evans walked free from prison today – with the jury out on whether he should ever play professional football again.
The 25-year-old was signed to the Blades when he raped a teenager in a hotel bedroom in Rhyl, North Wales, in 2011.
He admitted having sex with the 19-year-old behind his girlfriend’s back, but was convicted of rape on the basis his victim had been too drunk to consent. Evans was jailed for five years – but today was due to be released from his cell in Wymott Prison near Preston, with supporters and family saying he is keen to resume his career.
A Press pack gathered outside the prison waiting for Evans to be released, but bosses allowed him his freedom while fellow inmates in their cells slept – helping the footballer avoid a media frenzy.
Interest in the £3 million striker’s release reached fever pitch this week with supporters claiming he is ready to resume his football career while a petition objecting to him playing again has attracted around 100,000 signatures.
Broadcaster Judy Finnigan caused an outcry when she downplayed the rape, claiming the victim had been drunk and was not physically harmed.
Ex-Sheffield United manager Neil Warnock said: “You get convicted and when you have served your time you are allowed to get on with your life – that’s our society, that’s the law.
“I don’t see why he should not be allowed to play – but I realise a lot of people are up in arms about it.
“He has served his time and if he was in any other walk of life it would be allowed – that’s all I can say from the outside.”
Former Sports Minister and Sheffield MP Richard Caborn said the striker, who netted 32 goals for the Blades during his last season, should say sorry if he wants to resume his career.
“If he publicly acknowledges he did wrong and apologises, or if his appeal is successful, he should be given a second chance,” said Mr Caborn.
But Sheffield Coun Jack Scott, also a Blade, said: “I don’t want to go to Bramall Lane and see a convicted and unapologetic rapist running around being cheered by people.”
Sheffield MP and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said: “It is for the football club to decide but I really do think that footballers these days, they are major public figures who have a public responsibility to set an example for other people.”
THOSE FOR CHED PLAYING AGAIN:
RICHARD CABORN, former Sports Minister and Sheffield MP, A Sheffield United fan, said: “My view is very simple – Ched Evans at the moment is a convicted rapist, there’s no argument about that.
“Come his release he will have served his time and if he either publicly acknowledges he did wrong and apologises, or if his appeal is successful, he should be given a second chance. The law is the law and like anyone else he would be able to go back into society.
“He is a convicted rapist and he has served his time for that, but I think he has to acknowledge he did wrong and has to make that public, or he goes to appeal and waits for the outcome of that hearing.
“It is up to Sheffield United as to whether he plays again but I believe anyone who has served their time and comes out and acknowledges they have done wrong should be given a second chance, and I think it’s no different for footballers.
“I believe Ched Evans has got to apologise for what he did and make that very clear to people, or he goes to appeal and if the appeal says ‘you were wrongly convicted’ then he should be able to go back into society.”
NEIL WARNOCK, former Sheffield United manager, Sheffield United fan, said: “It is a delicate situation and everyone is entitled to their own view.
“I believe in society. You get convicted and when you have served your time you are allowed to get on with your life - that’s our society, that is the law.
“I don’t see why he should not be allowed to play but I realise a lot of people are up in arms about it.
“He has served his time and if he was in any other walk of life it would be allowed - that’s all I can say from the outside.”
RONNIE MOORE, former Rotherham United manager, said: “It is a difficult case, it is so complex.
“I have always thought he was found guilty and he has served his time - what more can he do?
“He made a mistake, a horrendous one, but he has paid for it and now he should be allowed to get on with his life.
“It will be difficult, and people will say what about the poor girl he raped and how does she get on with her life, but I think he has done his time.
“I think it will be a brave club that takes him on though - there will be controversy wherever he goes.
“What do people want the lad to do? Never play again?
“I know it’s controversial and I will probably get stick for it but I think he was found guilty, he has done his time – some may say it was not long enough, some will say it was – but he has to come out and get on with his life again.”
IAN WHITEHORNE, former Sheffield FC manager, said: “He is a free man and should be able to do what he wants to do, but if I was the chairman of Sheffield United I would not take the risk.
“He is still protesting his innocence but he was found guilty by a jury and right now he is a convicted rapist.
“In my opinion if you have done your time everyone is entitled to come back into society and he should not be refused any job he is qualified to do.”
THOSE AGAINST HIM PLAYING AGAIN
MEERA KULKARNI, manager of Sheffield Rape and Sexual Abuse Centre, said: “Rape is never deserved, it is never asked for and it is never the fault of the survivor. The only person to blame for a rape is the rapist.
“We acknowledge the principle that once society has received reparation for a crime, the debt is paid and the ex-offender is entitled to rehabilitation back into society.
“But Ched Evans still denies committing rape. And despite this he is due to be released this month - after serving only half of his five year sentence.
“Sheffield United FC is working in a highly visible public arena, followed by thousands of fans and supporters, many of whom are young and open to influence. A footballer has high prestige and can be seen as a role model by many young people and children.
“The club has, in our view, a clear responsibility to demonstrate its commitment to challenging sexual violence against women and to model good practice as an influential employer.
“Rape and sexual abuse must be taken seriously, violence against women should not be tolerated, and a convicted rapist who has shown no remorse for his actions should not be reinstated to this club.”
COUN JACK SCOTT, Sheffield United fan, said: “Sheffield United is one of the oldest clubs in the world and prides itself on being a family club. I have two very young daughters and, speaking personally, I don’t want to go to Bramall Lane and see a convicted and unapologetic rapist running around and being cheered by people.
“There are thousands of footballers just as good as Ched Evans who are not rapists.
“For somebody to be rehabilitated they have to be apologetic first and Ched Evans is not apologetic at all.
“Part of me can’t believe we are having this discussion in the 21st century.”
COUN NIKKI BOND, supporter of a campaign urging firms to write to Sheffield United urging them not to re-sign Evans, said: “My personal view is that the idea that young football fans are dead keen to have rapist Ched Evans’ name on their shirt is terrifying.”
CURTIS WOODHOUSE, former Sheffield United player turned professional boxer, said: “If you pride yourself on being a family club like we do you can’t have a convicted rapist as your star striker, in my opinion.
“I don’t want to see Ched Evans back at Sheffield United. Morals over goals.”
THOSE UNDECIDED ABOUT CHED PLAYING AGAIN
TONI MINICHIELLO, sports coach and Sheffield United fan, said: “I’ve a lot of respect for Nigel Clough and think he’s doing a good job for United. Ultimately it is a decision for him and the board to make.
“Whatever decision they make I’m sure will be a sensible one and in the best interests of the club.”
NICK CLEGG, Sheffield MP and Deputy Prime Minister, said: “I think the owners need to think really long and hard about the fact that, when you take a footballer on, you are also taking on a role model, particularly for a lot of young boys who look up to their heroes on a football pitch.
“It is for the football club to decide, but I really do think footballers these days are major public figures who have a public responsibility to set an example.
“He has done his time but I just don’t believe the owners of a football club can somehow wish away the fact that has happened.
“That is what he will be known for and that is something which, particularly for the youngsters following that team, they will always be aware of.”