Club defends stand on rapist Evans
The former football club of convicted rapist Ched Evans justified its decision to allow him to train with them by saying there was no place for "mob justice" and he should be allowed to be rehabilitated.
Campaigners against sexual violence have criticised Sheffield United for allowing the 25-year-old to regain his fitness following his release from prison where he served half of a five-year-term.
The Division One club released a lengthy statement explaining it had not yet decided whether to re-sign Evans, but said it agreed with a request from the Professional Footballers' Association (PFA) to train with them.
Sheffield United said it had considered the views of staff, the Football League and the PFA, as well as United supporters and the general public, as expressed in "emails, social media comments, editorials, supporter websites, public petitions and media coverage".
And it had closely considered the PFA view that footballers should be treated equally before the law, in terms of being allowed to be rehabilitated.
The club also stated Evans - who protests his innocence - acknowledged "the destructive nature of the acts, which led to his conviction".
Sheffield United said it condemned rape and violence against women in the "strongest possible terms".
The statement said: "The club considers rape, the crime for which Mr Evans was convicted, to be a heinous crime worthy of serious punishment as provided under law.
"The club has been assured by Mr Evans that he shares these value judgments."
The United statement said that he had served the custodial portion of his sentence and his parole conditions did not prevent him from playing professionally.
It added: "The club recognises that the same justice system that tried, convicted and punished Mr Evans under law also provides for his rehabilitation under law.
"The club agrees with the recent statements of The PFA, to the effect that professional footballers should be treated as equals before the law, including in circumstances where they seek to return to work following periods of incarceration.
"The club rejects the notion that society should seek to impose extrajudicial or post-term penalties on anyone.
"In a nation of laws, served by an elected parliament and duly constituted courts of law, there can be no place for 'mob justice'."
Sheffield United said it will play no role in his on-going legal battle to clear his name.
The Football League said it was up to individual clubs to decide whether or not to employ players with convictions.
Campaigners had earlier urged the club to rethink the decision to allow Evans back, only a month after his release for raping a 19-year-old woman.
One group asked Culture Secretary Sajid Javid to make it clear to the football authorities that the reputation of the game is at risk "when some of its leaders appear to put profit and success before ensuring that there is zero tolerance of sexual violence".
End Violence Against Women Coalition spokeswoman Sarah Green said: " The reputation of football and footballers regarding sexism and sexual violence has been severely tested in recent years. It is time to draw a clear line."
Rape Crisis England & Wales spokeswoman Katie Russell said: "From its privileged position at the heart of so many communities, football has the opportunity to support Rape Crisis and others in our ongoing work to redress this injustice and to uphold the needs and rights of sexual violence survivors by raising awareness and understanding."
Evans was jailed in April 2012 for raping the woman in a hotel room in Rhyl, North Wales.
Many Blades fans have called for him to be rehabilitated, but more than 157,000 people have signed an ongoing online petition urging the Bramall Lane club not to welcome him back.
The striker denied raping the woman, saying the sex was consensual, but he was found guilty by a jury at Caernarfon Crown Court.
The prosecution said the woman, who cannot be named for legal reasons, was too drunk to consent to sexual intercourse.
Port Vale defender Clayton McDonald also admitted having sex with the victim but was found not guilty of the same charge.
An appeal against Evans's conviction was rejected by three judges at the Court of Appeal in 2012. His case is due to be looked at by the Criminal Case Review Commission.
After his release, Evans released a video on his website protesting his innocence and vowing to clear his name.
He said: "It is my hope that I will be able to return to football.
"If that is possible then I will do so with humility, having learnt a very painful lesson.
"I would like a second chance."
Evans scored 42 goals in 103 games for the Blades, having previously played for Manchester City and Norwich City.