Ched Evans is thought to harbour hopes of returning to professional football by the end of this season if the Court of Appeal overturns his rape conviction on the basis of new evidence that the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) now says could have helped his defence at his trial.
The CCRC, which examines possible miscarriages of justice, has taken the relatively rare move of referring Evans’ conviction to the Appeal Court because of the new evidence. Only one in every 29 applications the organisation receives is referred to the Court – an average of 32 cases per year. The Court of Appeal has overturned 70 per cent of those convictions in the 19 years the CCRC has been in operation.
Three clubs have been monitoring developments in the Evans case, aware that signing him might be a possibility if his conviction, which saw him serve two-and-a-half years of a five-year sentence for rape, is overturned. Evans had hoped that the case might be referred rapidly and there was disappointment from some of those who are close to him when the CCRC deferred judgement for an unspecified period of time three weeks ago.
The chances of Evans representing Wales in next summer’s European Championship, which had initially been considered within the bounds of possibility were he acquitted, now appear to be slim. On average, it takes six months for cases referred by the CCRC to reach a full appeal, so – if cleared – he is unlikely to re-enter the game until April at the earliest. But Evans has worked hard to maintain his fitness from his Manchester base, resigned as he has been to the fact that he would be unable to play the game again until his lawyers secured an acquittal.
The CCRC chairman, Richard Foster, said that new material, which was not considered by the jury at the trial and which in the organisation’s view might have assisted the defence, had come to light. “In those circumstances, it is right and proper for the matter to be before the Court so that they can decide whether or not the new information should affect the verdict in this case,” Foster said.
The Independent reported last month that the CCRC had allowed the new legal team Evans appointed to guide his appeal – which is led by Shaun Draycott, the head of law firm Draycott Browne’s serious crime department – to secure affidavits for eight new witness statements.
The investigation which Draycott Browne has mounted has many strands. A central one is thought to be the issue of whether footage from 12 CCTV cameras which captured movements possibly relevant to the original trial, should have been a more central part of proceedings. Three cameras are thought to be of particular significance. The CCRC and Draycott Browne said they could not discuss details.
Evans, who was convicted in April 2012 of raping a 19-year-old woman in a hotel in Rhyl, north Wales, and released from prison last October, has made several attempts to restart his career. But the outcry attached to that – particularly when he thought he had found a way back with Oldham Athletic in January– caused a collapse of such plans.
Evans has apologised for his actions. But the website which protested his innocence has been a cause of public concern. The Independent highlighted last month that it continued to use images of a pink Mini Cooper and a sunshine island to illustrate what it purports were the motivating factor of the footballer’s victim. Those images have since been withdrawn.
CCTV footage which the website says captures the victim entering the Premier Inn hotel where the crime Evans was convicted of took place has been blurred to ensure that there can be no identification. The website states: “We would like to state that this website in no way seeks to undermine the seriousness of rape or trivialise the suffering that rape victims suffer.”
The CCRC said it had been “particularly mindful” of the targeted abuse suffered by the victim and had been careful to keep her informed about stages of the review. A number of outcomes will be possible when the Appeal Court hears Evans’ case. It could uphold the conviction, quash it, overturn it or – less likely – order a retrial.Reuse content