Northern Ireland

Ched Evans rape row: Footballer 'being victimised'

Ched Evans Image copyright PA
Image caption Ched Evans played for Sheffield United before he was jailed in April 2012 and was permitted to train with the club on his release

Convicted rapist and former Sheffield United footballer Ched Evans is being victimised, a lawyer has claimed.

Evans, who was jailed in April 2012 for raping a 19-year-old woman in a hotel room in 2011, was released last month.

Stuart Gilhooly, a lawyer for the Professional Footballers' Association of Ireland, said other convicted people had later been found to be innocent.

However, a rape victims' support group said the comparison was "ridiculous and insulting to victims".

Mr Gilhooly wrote an article on the association's website referring to Evans' crime as "alleged", despite the fact the footballer was found guilty of raping the woman in the hotel in Rhyl, North Wales, and sentenced to five years.

The article has since been removed from the website.

Stephen McGuinness, general secretary of the PFAI, confirmed that it had been the association's decision to remove the article from the website.

Mr McGuinness said: "We decided to take it down, it was our decision. We decided to take it down this morning as soon as we came in."

In his article, Mr Gilhooly said he believed that, whether Evans was guilty or innocent, the footballer deserved another chance.

Years in prison

He said that while a jury convicted him of the crime, the same applied to the Guildford Four and the Birmingham Six.

The Guildford Four and the Birmingham Six were initially convicted of involvement in an IRA bombing campaign that claimed several lives.

The verdicts in both cases were overturned after the 10 accused spent many years in prison.

Mr Gilhooly said he was not comparing Evans' case with the Guildford Four or the Birmingham Six, but merely saying they were found guilty by a jury but were innocent.

"Simply because a jury convicts you doesn't mean you are guilty. The world is full of miscarriages of justices where juries have convicted people."

"He (Evans) says he did not commit the crime. As far as I'm concerned, he is entitled to make that case."

Asked why he described the offence as "alleged", he said Evans had always insisted he was innocent.

"He may be wrong and it may well be that at some point in the future the miscarriage of justice commission will say that he is wrong about it.

'No blame'

"I say it's alleged because at the moment the matter is still under appeal and I think it is only right that we should continue to use alleged until all appeals have been exhausted."

Mr Gilhooly said he had made it perfectly clear in his online article that the victim was not in any way to blame for what went on.

"I do think, however, that we need to have some cognisance of the fact that Ched Evans is being victimised here himself," he said.

"I appreciate that the lady in question has been through an appalling time and I wouldn't seek in any way to make that worse, but he is continuing to be the victim of a witch hunt and my own personal belief is that whether or not he is guilty of that crime, he deserves a second chance of playing football."

Mr Gilhooly said the opinions expressed in his article on the Professional Footballers' Association of Ireland's website were his own views are not those of the PFAI.

Pam Hunter, of rape victims' support group Nexus NI, said appropriate employment for released perpetrators while on licence reduced future offending rates.

"The issue in the case of Ched Evans is that his employment role could be seen as not appropriate due to the celebrity status such players achieve," she said.

"The fact that a solicitor has voiced opinions and comparisons with those where a miscarriage of justice has been found is ridiculous and insulting to victims of sexual violence.

'Sexual violence'

"The court and the appeal court have both found Ched Evans guilty. What is even more galling is the description of the circumstances of the rape is being used to mitigate his crime. Rape is rape and it is a crime whatever the circumstances."

Ms Hunter asked if the same debate would be taking place if Evans' "employment was not in the limelight".

"To put this into perspective, Nexus NI's yearly funding is the same value as a top footballer's weekly wage," she said.

"Support for victims of sexual violence is grossly under resourced. Perhaps Ched Evans could pay a victims' surcharge from his wages while he still under licence?"

Controversy was caused when Sheffield United allowed Evans to resume training at the club following his release from prison.

Musician Paul Heaton resigned as a patron of Sheffield United's Community Foundation over the decision to allow Evans to train with the club.

TV presenter Charlie Webster, sixties pop star Dave Berry and Sheffield businesswoman Lindsay Graham have all resigned as patrons of the club since Evans returned to training.

Olympic athlete Jessica Ennis-Hill asked for her name to removed from a stand at the club's Bramall Lane ground if Evans returns full-time.

More than 160,000 people have signed a petition demanding the club refuse to sign Evans.

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