Ched Evans playing football again might seem grotesque, but how should his fate be decided — an online poll?

The principles on which our law is founded must apply to all if they are to mean anything

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The Independent Online

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.

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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