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7 January 2015

So, does Ched Evans deserve a second chance?

After Oldham Athletic became the latest club to consider signing the disgraced footballer, a petition against the move has become one of the fastest growing ever, with 30,000 names on it by Monday. But after serving his sentence for rape, should he be allowed to rebuild his life, as many here have been allowed to do after heinous crimes? Two writers with radically different views argue the case for and against

Footballer Ched Evans

Ruth Dudley Edwards says yes: Having zilch interest in football, I'd never heard of Ched Evans until last April when I was asked to sign a petition against his re-signing by Sheffield United.

I learned that Evans had been given five years for the squalid rape of a drunken woman of whom he had taken mean advantage. His ex-employers were considering rehiring him or at least letting him use training facilities when he was released on licence in October.

I didn't sign, not just because I'm cautious about signing petitions relating to causes about which I know little, but because instinctively I think people should get a second chance.

I was also uneasy about the emotive terminology used, which alleged that to allow Evans to play football professionally again would be a "deep insult to the woman who was raped and to all women like her who have suffered at the hands of a rapist".

And I was even more bothered about the hysterical tone of much of the campaign being waged on social media.

Many users of social media are bullies. Refuse to condemn Israel over Gaza and you're sent pictures of dead babies.

Refuse to deny Ched Evans a future and you're letting down defenceless abused women everywhere.

Well, I'm not. I just think this is a more complex issue than it seems on Twitter.

I forgot about Evans until the campaign intensified after his release and over a matter of days patrons and sponsors of Sheffield United threatened to withdraw support if he were hired or even allowed training facilities.

I admire Jessica Ennis-Hill, but I thought she'd been precipitate in saying she'd have her name removed from a stand if Evans were signed by the club. If Evans had admitted rape and said sorry, people might be more forgiving, but since he claims the sex was consensual and is pursuing an appeal, obviously he can't apologise to the victim.

He's certainly begged forgiveness where he can.

When he came out of jail, he grovelled to his girlfriend and told the public he had "constantly regretted my act of infidelity and the damage that has been done on so many fronts because of it".

If he got the chance to play football again, he said, "then I would do so with humility having learned a very painful lesson.

I would like a second chance but I know not everyone would agree. I don't believe I have a given right to play again, but for any club to take me on, I've learned a valuable lesson and know that, over time, I can prove myself to be a positive influence, not just on the pitch but also in the community".

I take my social media life in my hands by adding that I agree with Judy Finnegan and Michael Buerk, who got into trouble for saying that there is rape and there is rape, that we have to take responsibility for our actions and that it wasn't irrelevant that the victim - who was an adult - was drunk.

Further, I agree with Sheffield United co-chairman Jim Phipp when he said that his club lost its nerve and yielded to "mob-like behaviour".

The mob is at it again in trying to bully Oldham Athletic out of giving Evans a break and a chance to use his gifts.

And a mirror-image mob is shamefully bullying the girl whom he was found guilty of raping.

Northern Ireland often makes me think in Biblical terms.

Oh ye in social media, let him or her who is without sin cast the first stone.

Malachi O'Doherty says No: No harm to Ched Evans but he has inherited a responsibility and he should bear it with dignity. In a world in which people can wreck their careers with a giddy tweet, bemoaning that your road to stardom is blocked by public squeamishness over rape is a hard complaint to sustain.

So tough!

He belongs to a line of work which is already tainted by its reputation for voracious and brutal sexual practices. It was British football which gave us a new meaning for the word "roasting". The sport has a job to do in persuading us that the average footballer doesn't regard women as playthings.

Evans may be only a small part of that culture. He may even be a negligible part of it. For all we know he really did do something ill-considered and out of character.

And he might think that there is an injustice in him being held answerable for the crassness of the wider sexist culture of modern footie. But he is and he can do something about it.

He can demonstrate that he understands why he went to jail.

He can apologise.

He was invited into a hotel room by one of his mates to have sex with a drunk woman. You can't just receive another human into your hands the way you might be passed a towel or a bottle to drink from.

There are no excuses for what he did.

A woman has a right to give or withhold consent in every circumstance.

We are going through a period of massive embarrassments for the BBC and the churches and the care system and now government circles over the disgrace brought on them by the sexual predators they employed and excused or ignored.

It would be simple madness in this culture of heightened awareness of predatory behaviour for any institution to risk further disgrace.

We might like to imagine that the unwillingness of clubs to take Evans on is grounded on a firm sense of fair play and respect for the human but there is a strong pragmatic motive for them.

They don't know what the next scandal is going to be, only that there will be one.

And a club that may have to answer for the behaviour of other sexually irresponsible players in the future is going to be in a weak position if it has already signed a man knowing that he raped a woman and saw nothing wrong with what he did.

Those who don't respect that caution will dismiss it as political correctness or clubs covering their backs. They will be aware that times have changed and mightn't like that.

But can you imagine that a broadcaster convicted of a sexual crime would get a job in the BBC after Jimmy Savile? This is not just about the justice with which Evans is treated but about the need for institutions to protect themselves and demonstrate that they are alert to the danger they put the public in when they elevate those who see people primarily as sexual opportunities.

I agree that Evans has served his time.

The parole board even allowed him remission without, presumably, insisting on penitence or even acknowledgement of his guilt.

So, in the normal run of things, I would not argue against him going back to work within his chosen field.

There are people all around us who have served sentences and do not acknowledge their guilt.

Some are indeed innocent of the crimes of which they were convicted.

There is a punitive culture in the British media which would have criminals pay to the ends of their days for their mistakes. I hate that attitude.

But Evans's problem is bigger than the righteousness of the hang 'em and flog 'em brigade.

It is that he comes out of a footballing culture which has disgraced itself before and will again and he can't return to it if he doesn't show that he understands that. No club in its right mind could sign him until he does.

Welsh footballer maintains his innocence despite being handed a five-year prison sentence at Crown Court for raping drunken teenager in hotel

Welsh footballer Ched Evans (26) was tried at the Crown Court at Caernarfon after being charged with the rape of a 19-year-old woman at an hotel near Rhyl in May 2011.

The woman was deemed too drunk to consent to sex at the time. Evans was convicted of the rape on April 20, 2012 and sentenced to five years imprisonment, eligible for release after serving half of that sentence. A second footballer, Clayton McDonald, was also tried but acquitted.

Evans, who was playing for Sheffield United at the time of his conviction, was released by the club at the end of the football season. In August 2012 he was refused leave to appeal against the conviction, and this decision was upheld by the Court of Appeal in London in November.

Evans continued to maintain his innocence and in November 2013 recruited a new legal team to attempt to clear his name. On October 17, 2014, he was released from prison and several weeks later proposed to his girlfriend Natasha Massey, who had led a campaign against his conviction. While in prison Evans, who was named League One Player of the Month for March 2012, met with Sheffield United co-chairman Kevin McCabe and manager Nigel Clough to discuss the possibility of re-signing for the club.

This prompted a petition by 150,000 people urging the club not to take him on again. In November 2014, following his release, it was announced that Evans would resume training with The Blades. But the uproar halted this. He has yet to find a club, with Hibernians FC of Malta and Oldham Athletic the latest teams linked to him.

Ruth Dudley Edwards

© Ruth Dudley Edwards