The football circus rolls on as it has always done in the light of Ched Evans’ acquittal at re-trial on a charge of rape. He is “enjoying” his football at Chesterfield, say his representatives, with the only caveat that he currently has a foot injury. And as for the prospect of him playing international football for Wales? Well “that’s up to Chris Coleman.”
Out in the real world, the court proceedings which have seen him acquitted shine another light on the place that footballers of his ilk occupy. These past two weeks at Cardiff Crown Court have been a journey into a seedy world of the sexual entitlement felt by a £20,000-a-week player revelling in his status as a minor celebrity.
Evans’ “threesomes” have featured prominently in the evidence – one after a game of strip poker in 2009 and another involving the woman whom he was alleged to have raped at a hotel in North Wales in May 2011. He admitted in court that he lied to get the key for the hotel bedroom on the night of the alleged crime. He did not speak to the young woman before, during or after sex. He left the hotel via a fire exit. His younger brother, Ryan Roberts, and another man, Jack Higgins were watching through the window of the room and tried to film what they saw.
And beyond the evidence, there was Evans’ general demeanour. One associate of his tells of a growing concern about the impression of Evans that the re-trial was creating. A sense that he thought he was “God’s gift” who “treated women very badly.” By Wednesday, the associate wondered “how was that playing out with a jury of seven women and five men?” Little wonder that the corridor walkway at the Manchester City Football Academy which depicts images of every single player who had graduated to the first team does not include his image. The Ched Evans portrait won’t be going back up any time soon.
Evans’ sense of entitlement has given way to one of victimhood in the four years since he was charged with rape and the weakness of the North Wales Police case has certainly not helped.
The Independent reported 12 months ago that there were question marks about whether footage from 12 CCTV cameras which captured movements possibly relevant to the original trial, should have been a more central part in it. It seemed odd that a camera capturing movements outside of a kebab shop had not played a more central role in the original trial. There seemed to be scope for more witness statements than had been gathered for that trial. Evans was not under caution when he discussed the case with officers in the police car which brought him to North Wales for questioning.
But nothing forgives the conduct we have seen during attempts to clear his name – most particularly, his willingness to allow a website to publish the vilest declarations of his innocence. Its worst statements, about the complainant, were removed several days after The Independent drew fresh attention to them, though their ugliness knew no bounds. Beyond blurred footage of the woman, there were the images of a pink Mini Cooper and a sunshine island to illustrate what it suggests were the motivating factors for her.
There was another way to challenge the conviction. It was the one selected by the player's mother, Helen Roberts, and his sisters Kylie and Nicola. They approached Don Hale, a freelance investigative journalist instrumental in overturning the 1974 murder conviction of Stephen Downing. Hale sifted the evidence and helped secure witness statements. The legal system is equipped with dignified ways to assert innocence.
Evans has grounds to expect compensation now – up to £1m, based on age, loss of income and time in prison. (Evans served half of a five-year sentence.) “If compensation is coming to Ched then that would be justified,” said his representative.
As a footballer, he is all but finished, though. When convicted, his future lay out before him as a striker of repute for Sheffield United. The Football Association of Wales wouldn’t comment on his case on Friday but after their work building such an impressive reputation under the campaign banner #togetherisstronger at this summer’s European Championships, selecting him would be a deeply retrograde step.
The complainant, meanwhile, must attempt to begin again under the protection of a lifetime witness protection order. The consequences of this episode are far more grim for her. There are no winners from the episode in which football truly plumbed the depths.