Should the rapist Ched Evans return to his football career? We asked two writers with two very different opinions to give us their views. Here, Simon Kelner says yes, he should. To read why Grace Dent thinks otherwise, click here.
My wish for the new year: I'd like to live in a land where the rule of law holds sway, where ancient principles laid down in the Magna Carta underpin our society, and where the established system of crime and punishment is understood and respected.
It doesn't seem like much to ask for, but 2015 has started much in the way that the old year finished. When it comes to the troubling case of footballer Ched Evans, the highest court in the land is that of public opinion, a person is tried not in a courtroom but on Twitter, and ancient principles of redemption and rehabilitation are ignored.
I find almost every aspect of the Ched Evans case dismaying. He was tried and convicted for raping a 19-year-old woman in April 2012. The woman in question was deemed too drunk to consent to the act, which took place in a Rhyl hotel room, and the incident was a telling and tawdry example of the culture of drink, entitlement and misogyny that inhabits some corners of modern football.
Evans was sentenced to five years in jail, and was released after serving half his term. He has continued to protest his innocence, and although he was refused leave to appeal, the Criminal Cases Review Commission have said that they are fast-tracking an examination of whether his conviction was safe. Pending that decision, Evans will remain on the register of sex offenders indefinitely. This is a textbook case of our legal system functioning as it should.
Then we get to the tricky bit. Evans, on his release from incarceration, did not publicly apologise for what he had been convicted of doing, and in fact showed no contrition for his actions. He generally presented himself as a very unsympathetic character, and I completely understand, given the serious and emotionally-charged nature of his crime, why many people should feel exercised about his stated desire to resume his football career.
The stories that defined 2014
The stories that defined 2014
Sheffield United withdraws its offer to its former player, the convicted rapist Ched Evans, to use its training facilities, following a public backlash against the club
The Apple Watch launches, in the hope that 'wearable technology' will become commonplace
In the European Parliament elections, Ukip comes top with 26.5 per cent, Labour polls 24.5 per cent and the Conservatives 23 per cent. The result presages a year of electoral success for Ukip: the party wins two by-elections, at Clacton in Essex and Rochester in Kent
Bearded drag act Conchita Wurst wins the Eurovision Song Contest for Austria with her song ‘Rise Like a Phoenix
The American actor George Clooney marries the British human-rights lawyer Amal Alamuddin in Venice
A user posts on an online bulletin board a list of celebrities of whom he or she claims to have explicit photographs and videos. The list comprises mostly female actors, singers and other public figures, including Jennifer Lawrence, Kim Kardashian, Rihanna and Kirsten Dunst. Soon after, images of Lawrence and others begin circulating on file-sharing sites. The hacker claims to have taken the images from Apple’s iCloud back-up service
The Royal Family announces that Kate Middleton and her husband Prince William, Duke of Cambridge are expecting a second child
Chris Kennedy, a golfer from Florida, uploads a video of himself pouring a bucket of icy water over his head, and nominates three friends to undergo the challenge ‘or donate $100 to the ALS Association’. Within weeks, more than $50m is pledged to various motor neurone disease charities, as the craze to emulate Kennedy’s feat goes viral. Pictured here, Kylie Minogue gives herself a soaking.
Rebekah Brooks, the former editor of ‘The Sun’ and chief executive of News International, is cleared of all charges related to phone hacking. Her former lover, ex-colleague and one-time Conservative Party director of communications, Andy Coulson, however, is found guilty of conspiracy to hack phones
After a 10-year, four billionmile journey, the European Space Agency probe Philae landed on comet 67P. Amid excitement about the apparent success of the mission, attention turns to a British scientist, Dr Matt Taylor, involved in the mission – in particular, his striking shirt depicting scantily clad cartoon women
The Scottish referendum returns a conclusive decision in favour of continuing the union with the United Kingdom: the Yes vote, led by Alex Salmond, polls 45 cent, the No vote 55 per cent
March, April, October…
First, Jeremy Clarkson uses the term 'slope' on 'Top Gear' in a context that some believe is racist; a few days later, it emerges that Clarkson, in footage not broadcast, has used the word 'nigger' in a nursery rhyme. Finally, in October, he and his 'Top Gear' film crew flee an angry crowd in Argentina who believe a licence plate (H982 FKL) on a car used in filming is a reference to the Falklands
An inquest jury rules that Mark Duggan, whose death in Tottenham, north London, sparked the August 2011 riots, was lawfully killed by police
But who are we to judge? Hadn't he already been tried by a jury? Hasn't he already served his sentence? First, Sheffield United (the club he played for at the time of the offence) gave in to public opinion, and their sponsors' representations, and reversed their original decision to allow him to train with the club. And now it looks like Oldham Athletic, who were interested in signing Evans, will bow to the inevitable public outcry - 25,000 signatures and counting on an online petition - and change their mind about offering a position to a man who is only ever referred to in print as a "convicted rapist".
Evans happens to be a football player. Thanks to a genetic accident, he has a skill which - in the twisted moral and financial universe we all inhabit - is ridiculously highly prized, and enables him to earn, even at his relatively modest level, eye-watering amounts of money. He also has enjoyed an enviable life of privilege, plus the adoration of thousands of fans.
It may be seen as grotesque that he, a man with a criminal record, should be able to resume this gilded life. But that's the way things are, I'm afraid. It's not his fault that football is so high profile that anyone who puts on a pair of boots is - naively, in my view - regarded as an instant role model. Again: he has served his sentence. Two-and-a-half years in prison. In a mature democratic society, those who pay the price for their crimes should also get a shot at rehabilitation.
I'm at a loss to understand where this all ends. What would satisfy the online petitioners? Should Ched Evans not be allowed to play professional football ever again? Or should he be sentenced to further exclusion from public life? Perhaps decided by an online poll? A civilised society can be judged by how it treats its offenders. The hounding of Ched Evans reflects badly on all of us.
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