Ched Evans: Sheffield United confirm convicted rapist will return to training after request from PFA

The former Sheffield United striker was released from prison last month after serving half of a five-year sentence for rape in 2011

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Sheffield United will allow convicted rapist Ched Evans to start training at his old club with immediate effect following a request from the Professional Footballers' Association.

The Blades announced in a lengthy statement on Tuesday evening that the club's board had decided to agree to the PFA's request.

The statement said, though, that the club were "not prepared at this time" to make a decision on whether to re-sign Evans.

United said Evan's return to training would be "with a view to enabling Mr Evans to get back to a level of fitness, which might enable him to find employment in his chosen trade. This request has come to the Club, because it is the last club at which Mr Evans was registered before his conviction."

The club's board of directors took into consideration the views of staff at the club, the Football League and the PFA, as well as Blades supporters and the general public in their decision to allow him to train with them.

The board also considered the public statements made by the PFA and Evans, whom they spoke to during their deliberations.

Evans' return has been met with outrage by campaign groups, with the group End Violence Against Women Coalition saying it was "appalled".

United listed four considerations which their statement said informed the decision to let Evans return.

They said the club "condemns rape and violence of any kind against women in the strongest possible terms" and considers "rape, the crime for which Mr Evans was convicted, to be a heinous crime worthy of serious punishment as provided under law".

ChedEvans.JPG
Convicted rapist Evans said he is going to fight to clear his name, released in a YouTube video

It added: "The Club has been assured by Mr Evans that he shares these value judgements."

United said they did not "question Mr Evans' conviction for rape", but pointed out his punishment "was consistent with applicable law", that he had "completed the custodial portion of his sentence as provided under law, having demonstrated good behaviour while in custody" and "been paroled on licence conditions, which do not restrict him from returning to service in professional football".

They also said "same justice system that tried, convicted and punished Mr Evans under law also provides for his rehabilitation under law".

The club said they agreed with the PFA that "professional footballers should be treated as equals before the law, including in circumstances where they seek to return to work following periods of incarceration".

"In a nation of laws, served by an elected parliament and duly constituted courts of law, there can be no place for 'mob justice'," they added.

United also said that Evans was seeking to clear his name before the Criminal Cases Review Commission and, if permitted, the appellate courts, but said it took "no view on the merits of" and had "no role in, any such appeal".

They added: "The club's decision to allow Mr Evans to train at the club's facilities is based on the facts as they stand today and is in no way dependent on the perceived merits or outcome of the appeal."

United were clear they had made no move to sign Evans, though.

They said: "While some have speculated about whether the Club will or should invite Mr Evans to return to SUFC as a registered footballer, the Club is not prepared at this time to decide that issue."

The 25-year-old former Wales international was released from jail last month after serving half of a five-year jail term imposed in April 2012 for raping a 19-year-old woman in a hotel room in Rhyl, North Wales.

Almost 157,000 people have signed a petition urging Sheffield United not to re-sign Evans and the campaign group Object said on Twitter: "Object stands in solidarity with the woman Ched Evans was convicted of raping and all other rape survivors affected by today's news."

The group End Violence Against Women Coalition criticised the move.

Spokeswoman Sarah Green said: "We are appalled that top football club Sheffield United are taking the first step to allowing an unrepentant convicted rapist back into their team this week.

"Footballers are critical role models for young men and women in particular, and the player concerned is now set to return to top flight football when he has shown no remorse for his crime.

"Indeed he has used his profile to persistently claim his 'innocence' in the media and re-traumatise his own and many other victims."

Evans has always denied raping the woman, saying the sex was consensual, but he was found guilty by a jury at Caernarfon Crown Court.

The prosecution said the woman, who cannot be named for legal reasons, was too drunk to consent to sexual intercourse.

Defender Clayton McDonald, then of Port Vale, also admitted having sex with the victim, but was found not guilty of the same charge.

An appeal against Evans' conviction was rejected by three judges at the Court of Appeal in 2012.

After his release, Evans released a video on his website protesting his innocence and vowing to clear his name.

United signed Evans from Manchester City for £3million in 2009 and he scored 48 goals in 113 games for the Blades, who released him a month after his conviction.

The Football League released a statement of its own saying it would have "no option but to accept" any request from its member clubs to register Evans.

It said the decision over whether to sign him was one for individual clubs, who would have to make their own assessment of the potential off-field consequences.

A spokesman added: "At its most recent meeting, the board of the Football League considered the implications for football's reputation of club's employing players following their release from prison. The board has asked its independent directors to consider the matter further before reporting back to the board at a future meeting and then our clubs at an appropriate point."

Sheffield United's statement in full...

Sheffield United Football Club acknowledges the public discussion on the potential return of its former player, Mr Ched Evans, to professional football following the completion of the custodial portion of his sentence for rape in the courts of England and Wales. While some have speculated about whether the Club will or should invite Mr Evans to return to SUFC as a registered footballer, the Club is not prepared at this time to decide that issue.

The Club also acknowledges receipt of a request from The Professional Footballers' Association ('The PFA') to the effect that the Club consider allowing MrEvans, who is a PFA member, to train at the Club's facilities. According to the request, this training would be with a view to enabling Mr Evans to get back to a level of fitness, which might enable him to find employment in his chosen trade. This request has come to the Club, because it is the last club at which Mr Evans was registered before his conviction.

In response to The PFA's request, the SUFC Board of Directors has deliberated the matter internally, taking into consideration:

The views of Staff, the Football League, and The PFA;

The views of SUFC supporters and the general public as expressed in numerous letters and emails, social media comments, editorials, supporter websites, public petitions and media coverage; and

The public statements of:

The PFA, declaring that professional footballers should be treated as equals before the law, including in circumstances where they seek to be rehabilitated and to return to work in their chosen trade following periods of incarceration; and

Mr Evans, acknowledging the destructive nature of the acts, which led to his conviction, and seeking a chance to be rehabilitated by returning to work in his chosen trade after having completed the custodial portion of his sentence.

In the course of its deliberations, the Board also spoke with Mr Evans and his representatives.

After due consideration, the Board has decided to respond favourably to The PFA's request and to allow Mr Evans to train at the Club's facilities. This decision, which takes effect immediately, is informed by the following four considerations:

The Club condemns rape and violence of any kind against women in the strongest possible terms. More specifically, the Club considers rape, the crime for which Mr Evans was convicted, to be a heinous crime worthy of serious punishment as provided under law. The Club has been assured by Mr Evans that he shares these value judgements.

The Club does not question Mr Evans' conviction for rape. The Club is advised that:

The punishment imposed on Mr Evans in connection with his conviction was consistent with applicable law;

Mr Evans has completed the custodial portion of his sentence as provided under law, having demonstrated good behaviour while in custody; and

Mr Evans has been paroled on licence conditions, which do not restrict him from returning to service in professional football.

The Club recognises that the same justice system that tried, convicted and punished Mr Evans under law also provides for his rehabilitation under law.

The Club agrees with the recent statements of The PFA, to the effect that professional footballers should be treated as equals before the law, including in circumstances where they seek to return to work following periods of incarceration. The Club rejects the notion that society should seek to impose extrajudicial or post-term penalties on anyone. In a nation of laws, served by an elected parliament and duly constituted courts of law, there can be no place for 'mob justice'. The Club believes that the only penalties following from a conviction on any charge should be those set forth in law and deemed appropriate by a court of competent jurisdiction.

The Club understands that Mr Evans is pursuing legal recourse to clear his name before the Criminal Cases Review Commission and, if permitted, before the appellate courts. The Club recognises Mr Evans' right to appeal and to seek to clear his name as provided under law. The Club, however, takes no view on the merits of, and has no role in, any such appeal. The Club leaves all such matters exclusively to Mr Evans, his legal advisors and the justice system. The Club's decision to allow Mr Evans to train at the Club's facilities is based on the facts as they stand today and is in no way dependent on the perceived merits or outcome of the appeal.

Apart from this statement, the Club will not be making any further comments about this matter for the foreseeable future.

PA