Former Sheffield United striker Ched Evans is expected to be released from prison tomorrow (Friday) after serving half of a five-year sentence for raping a 19-year-old woman.
He leaves Wymott prison in Lancashire amid heightened controversy over whether he should be allowed to pull on a Blades shirt, or that of any professional team, again.
More than 145,000 people have signed an online petition warning that the club must not reinforce the message that “men who commit such atrocious crimes will suffer only a small penance whilst the women they attack suffer for the rest of their lives”.
The 25-year-old continues to proclaim his innocence, backed by a legal team and a website visited by 260,000 people. The argument has been repeated that everybody deserves a second chance to get on with their lives.
Evans has reportedly been keeping fit, despite being confined to a cell for 20 hours a day. The money he has earned as a painter and decorator in prison has been used to buy fruit and nuts for a healthy diet.
Sheffield United, who terminated his contract on his conviction for raping the woman in a hotel room in Rhyl in North Wales, refuse to be drawn over whether they are prepared to have back the prolific goalscorer.
“We haven’t made a decision,” said United co-chairman Jim Phipps. “We acknowledge it is a very difficult issue and we are still puzzling through it. We don’t have a clear answer.”
Key to the verdict will be the opinion of club owners Kevin McCabe and Prince Abdullah bin Mosaad bin Abdulaziz Al Saud. No indication has been given when a decision will be made.
During his trial at Caernarfon Crown Court, Evans admitted having sex with the woman, but she told a jury she had no memory of the incident – and the prosecution said she was too drunk to consent to sexual intercourse.
His girlfriend, beauty therapist Natasha Massey, went on ITV’s This Morning to insist he is innocent of rape – and to show her support for him resuming his football career.
Her comments followed Loose Women TV presenter Judy Finnigan prompting a wave of outrage by saying his attack was ‘not violent’ and pointing out the victim had ‘had far too much to drink’.
The backlash was immediate. “It doesn’t matter whether he was violent or not, he raped her!” said one critic.
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