Belfast Telegraph

Home News UK

Thousands protest at Evans move

Thousands of people are signing a petition calling for a football club not to sign convicted rapist Ched Evans.

The online petition gained 8,000 signatures within hours of it being set up to oppose giving Evans a route back into the game.

He was released from prison in October, still protesting his innocence, after serving half of a five-year sentence for the rape of a 19-year-old woman in a hotel.

Evans is understood to be holding talks with League One Oldham Athletic FC, who last month said they would not be offering the Wales striker a contract or the opportunity to train with them.

The apparent U-turn has sparked outrage amongst Oldham fans and the news of Evans' possible return to football led to the online petition.

Professional Footballers' Association (PFA) chief executive Gordon Taylor confirmed a League One side will hold a press conference tomorrow in relation to the signing of the player but would not name the club involved. Oldham were not available for comment today.

The petition has been set up by Jean Hatchet from London on the Change.org.uk website and in it she calls on Simon Corney, chairman of Oldham Athletic not to sign Evans, who she says does "have the right to work" but not "in a role where he influences views about sexual violence."

It was set up online at 1pm and has already been signed by 8,000 people.

The petition reads: "Ched Evans is a convicted rapist. He does not deserve to return to a high profile and highly visible role in football whilst he still refuses to acknowledge his guilt, apologise to his victim and attempt to make clear his views to the fans who look up to him that what he did was wrong and they should not traumatise her or other rape victims.

"Currently Oldham is said to be considering signing him. This is a damaging message about rape and sexual consent to be giving to your fans. Please think again."

A counter petition, urging Oldham to sign the player, has been signed by five supporters.

The ex-Wales international had an offer to train with his former club Sheffield United in November.

But following a backlash from Blades supporters, sponsors and patrons opposed to Evans's return - 160,000 people signed a petition against it - the club withdrew the offer.

Other clubs including Tranmere and Hartlepool also rejected the opportunity to sign him and a recently touted move abroad to Maltese club Hibernians appeared to have floundered due to rules on convicted sex offenders and their probation regime.

Mr Taylor told BBC Radio 5 Live's Sportsweek programme: "Bearing in mind what happened with his release and then of course the furore that we had at Sheffield United, we feel that any club wishing to sign him needs to be 100% committed to signing him for proper and legitimate football reasons."

Mr Taylor said the PFA appreciated the situation was "very sensitive", but reiterated its stance that Evans deserved the chance to resume his career following his release from prison.

"We've made it clear in our statements that we feel he's been unable to say much because of the appeals process, but he has served his time and the job of society is to look to rehabilitate," he added.

Following an apparent offer to join Hibernians, the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) quickly stepped in to suggest working abroad was not compatible with Evans's release conditions, that he must have regular face-to-face meetings with his probation officer.

Evans, who previously played for Manchester City, was jailed in April 2012 for raping a woman in a hotel room in Rhyl, North Wales.

The player denied the offence, saying the sex was consensual, but he was found guilty by a jury at Caernarfon Crown Court.

Oldham Athletic have previously signed a former convict as a player.

Lee Hughes, who served three years in jail for causing the death by dangerous driving of father-of-four Douglas Graham in Meriden, near Coventry, in 2004, signed for the club after coming out of jail in 2007.

Oldham's interest in Evans sparked lively debate on unofficial fans' forums, with some supporters saying they would not attend another game at the club's Boundary Park home if Evans signed.

On one fans' forum a member named as Underdog wrote: "Please god no ... we are a family club ... He is a convicted sex offender until the courts decide otherwise ... can you imagine the grief we would get as fans ...This is a nightmare, if he signs I will not be returning back to BP until he has gone and would have to consider my role in playershare and trust oldham."

Bristolatic wrote: "I wasn't 100% comfortable with the Lee Hughes signing, but he did at least show some contrition. Ched Evans, on the other hand, has shown no remorse whatsoever. Instead, he has chosen to simply declare that he is innocent.

"My conscience would not allow me to be at a game in which he was playing.

"It would break my football heart to sever my allegiance with the club after all this time, but that's the way it would be. I feel so sad at the thought."

However another poster, Hands On, wrote: "We all have to make our own minds up. I have made up mine and believe he should be given the chance to pursue his chosen profession again. I will continue to support my club."

Daily News Headlines Newsletter

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox.

Popular

From Belfast Telegraph