Cooney and Black

Ched Evans: While I do not question the motives of the majority of campaigners, there are some I am deeply suspicious of, in the belief that they have little better to do with their time than search for a crusade.

Ched Evans

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I have never met Ched Evans. Prior his conviction for rape in 2012. I’m not even sure I knew anything more about him other than he was a Wales international footballer.

But there can be few who remain ignorant about who exactly Evans is. The 26-year-old gained unwelcome notoriety when he was jailed for raping a teenage girl in a hotel.

Originally sentenced to a term of five years’ imprisonment, Evans was freed under licence last October. Since then, he has rarely been out of the headlines.

Had he worked previously as a butcher, baker or candlestick maker, I doubt that he would have been heard of again outside his immediate sphere of influence.

But the fact that Evans is a high-ish profile sportsman seeking re-employment at his former trade has caused a furore.

Sheffield United, who reportedly paid Manchester City £3million for his services in July 2009, were understandably keen to offer Evans training facilities after his release, clearly in an effort to eventually recoup at least some of their outlay.

The club was actively encouraged to do so by the Professional Footballers’ Association. But the decision was viewed as controversial, to say the least, and led to several prominent local personalities resigning as patrons of the club.

Olympic athlete Jessica Ennis-Hill, by far the best known of the group, stated that she wanted her name removed from a stand at Bramall Lane if Evans was signed.

The Football League stated that although they recognised the gravity of Evans’ crime, they valued the reintegration of reformed criminals and could not take any action against any club which hired his services.

However, when one of United’s two principal sponsors announced that they would withdraw their financial support and the other stated they would “re-evaluate” their relationship with the club if he were re-signed, Sheffield promptly withdrew their offer.

The cynic in me suspects that the threat of financial censure proved more persuasive than the petition reputedly signed by 150,000 people urging the club to have nothing further to do with Evans, on the grounds that to do so would be a “deep insult to the woman who was raped and to all women like her who had suffered at the hands of a rapist.”

United co-chairman Jim Phipps, however, attributed the decision to “mob-like behaviour”, adding that he believed Evans had the right to return to his career having served his sentence.

When, in December, Hartlepool United manager Ronnie Moore was reported as saying that he would like Evans to join the club, the comment brought immediate criticism from local MP, Iain Wright, who described Evans as a “pariah”.

Hartlepool subsequently issued a statement saying that they did not wish to sign the player.

Maltese Premier League club Hibernians FC then announced that they had offered Evans a contract up to the end of the season. But the British Ministry of Justice scuppered the possibility of such a move when they announced that Evans, as a convicted sex offender on licence, was barred from working abroad.

Then, just a few days later, on January 4, Oldham Athletic appeared on the scene, with the club seemingly keen to sign Evans.

This led to a swift and highly predictable backlash from fans, sponsors and even some club employees, including playing staff. Within the space of 24 hours, over 30,000 had signed an online petition condemning Oldham’s action. Now, the club have pulled out of any deal after apparently receiving threats.

So there you have it. Ched Evans should not be allowed to disgrace a football pitch ever again.

But I cannot but help experience a feeling of unease at some of the circumstances surrounding football’s efforts to rehabilitate the player.

“Mob-like behaviour” may be seen as an exaggeration of the facts, but online petitions are a worrying trend nonetheless; a vehicle for some to vent their spleen without recourse to the courts of justice and the fact that, under the laws of the land and Britain’s sense of fair play, Evans served his sentence as prescribed by a jury of his peers.

Rape is indeed a very serious crime deserving of severe punishment. But what would the reaction to Evans returning to football have been had he been found guilty of housebreaking, or car high-jacking? Should we, therefore, start grading crimes: one for housebreaking, up to ten for rape?

Evans has also been accused to failing to show contrition. But, given that he has lodged an appeal against his conviction with the Criminal Cases Review Commission, how can he then be seen to offer an act of contrition, as that would amount to an admission of guilt, surely?

And will the tens of thousands who have signed various petitions condemning Evans be as quick to offer an apology in the event that the Criminal Cases Review Commission overturns his conviction? No, I don’t think so, either.

James Hanratty, the eighth last person in Britain to be hanged for murder, was almost certainly innocent of the crime of which he was convicted. Any suggestions how to reinstate life to his corpse?

While I do not question the motives of the majority of campaigners in any walk of life, there are some I am deeply suspicious of, in the belief that they have little better to do with their time than search for a crusade in the principal hope that it will enhance their personal profile.

Regardless of the outcome of Evans’ appeal, he is a young man with a working life of 40 years. Is it not preferable that he should earn a living doing what he is best at rather than the State picking up the tab?

In conclusion, I will repeat what I said in 2000 when convicted rapist Mike Tyson was granted leave by the Home Secretary to box at Hampden Park: The former world heavyweight champion had already paid for his crime by doing the time.

Ched Evans is no different.

 
 
PICTURE COURTESY OF: Gary

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