Wales

Ched Evans: Footballer found not guilty of hotel rape

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Media captionNatasha Massey and Ched Evans outside court following the verdict

Footballer Ched Evans has been found not guilty of raping a 19-year-old woman in a hotel room.

The Chesterfield striker was accused of attacking her at a Premier Inn in Rhuddlan, Denbighshire, on 30 May 2011.

Mr Evans, 27, was originally found guilty of rape at Caernarfon Crown Court in 2012, but this conviction was quashed in April.

He was found not guilty of the same charge, after a retrial at Cardiff Crown Court, on Friday.

In a statement read out on Mr Evans's behalf after the verdict, the footballer said: "In the early hours of 30 May 2011, an incident occurred in north Wales that was to change my life and the lives of others forever.

"That incident did not involve the commission of a criminal offence and today I am overwhelmed with relief that the jury agreed.

"I would like to thank my legal team... for their tireless efforts upon my behalf.

"Thanks go, too, to my friends and family; most notably my fiancee, Natasha [Massey], who chose, perhaps incredibly, to support me in my darkest hour.

"Whilst my innocence has now been established, I wish to make it clear that I wholeheartedly apologise to anyone who might have been affected by the events of the night in question."

Soon after the verdict, the woman was named on social media, which is prohibited under law as victims and alleged victims of sexual offences are guaranteed lifelong anonymity.

Supt Jo Williams, from North Wales Police, said: "People need to be aware that they could find themselves being arrested and prosecuted. This was done previously, people were prosecuted and heavily fined."

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Media captionA timeline of events leading to Ched Evans clearing his name

A jury of seven women and five men took less than three hours to clear Mr Evans following a two-week trial.

There were gasps and cries in the public gallery when the verdict was read out, with members of Mr Evans's group breaking down.

Mr Evans, a former Wales international who was capped 13 times, was discharged from the dock and embraced Miss Massey.

He has always denied having sex with the woman while she was too drunk to consent.

He insisted she had agreed to let him "join in" while she was having consensual sex with fellow footballer Clayton McDonald, 27 - who was cleared of rape at the original trial - after a night out in Rhyl.

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Image caption Ched Evans leaves Cardiff Crown Court with his fiancee Natasha Massey

His legal team argued the case was "built around the myth" the complainant had been too drunk to agree to sex.

The prosecution alleged the woman did "not have the freedom or capacity to consent".

They said Mr Evans had treated her with a "callous, self-centred indifference essentially indistinguishable from utter contempt".

However, the jury cleared Mr Evans of the single charge after retiring to deliberate at about 11:40 GMT on Friday.

The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) said it respected the jury's decision and thanked the complainant for her "courage" in giving evidence.

Ed Beltrami, chief crown prosecutor, said: "The prosecution argued that the complainant did not have the capacity to consent, but the jury found they could not be sure, beyond reasonable doubt, that the complainant did not consent, or that Evans thought she was not consenting."

Evidence, not seen by the jury but discussed in open court, included two Facebook messages Miss Massey had sent to a prosecution witness after the first trial.

She wrote to Gavin Burrough, a night receptionist at the Premier Inn, saying there was a £50,000 reward for any new evidence.

"I'm literally begging. If you know anything please help me," she said.

Mr Burrough said he could not provide any more information as what he told the jury in the first trial was the truth.

The prosecution said the messages were an "attempt to induce Mr Burrough to change his evidence", but the defence successfully argued they were the actions of a "desperate girlfriend" seeking to clear her boyfriend's name.

Analysis

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Image caption Ched Evans was playing for Sheffield United at the time of the alleged rape

Dominic Casciani, home affairs correspondent

In rape trials, defence lawyers are banned from cross-examining an alleged victim about their sexual behaviour or history to protect them from humiliating treatment.

But there can be exceptional reasons to ditch that rule in the interests of a fair trial. The Court of Appeal said Mr Evans's case was one of those very rare exceptions.

It said that two other men who had sex with the woman had described their encounters with her in highly specific terms that were virtually indistinguishable from Mr Evans's own account of what had happened.

One of the encounters occurred days before the alleged rape - and the other in the days that followed.

On each occasion the woman had been drinking heavily and the sex occurred in a very specific way - including the words she used to encourage her partner.

Each time she woke up saying she had no memory of what had happened.

Lady Justice Hallett, one of the country's top judges, said that these events were so similar to what Mr Evans had described that a jury had to hear about them before deciding whether the woman had been incapable of giving her consent.

However, critics will say that this ruling on when a victim's sexual past can be scrutinised sets the bar far too low - and it may deter rape victims from coming forward out of fear of being interrogated.

And that, in turn, they argue, will mean fewer rapists facing justice.

Mr Evans was jailed for five years after his original conviction in 2012 before being released in October 2014.

His conviction was referred to the Court of Appeal following a 10-month investigation by the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC), which found new information not raised at the original trial.

Mr Evans - who had been playing for Sheffield United at the time of his conviction - came close to joining League One side Oldham Athletic in January 2015.

However, the club pulled out of the deal following threats to their staff and pressure from sponsors.

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Image caption Ched Evans scored on his return to football with Chesterfield this season

He also had an offer to use Sheffield United's training facilities rescinded in November 2014 after more than 170,000 people signed a petition against the move.

Olympic champion Jessica Ennis-Hill asked for her name to be removed from a stand at the club's Bramall Lane ground if he re-signed for the South Yorkshire side and three club patrons resigned.

He signed for Chesterfield in June after his successful conviction appeal.

Chesterfield chief executive Chris Turner said: "We are naturally delighted with the outcome, especially for Ched, his family and friends. We can now all move forward and focus on football."

The Football Association of Wales said it would not comment on the verdict.

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