UK Politics

Ched Evans row: MP and patrons criticise Sheffield Utd

Ched Evans Image copyright PA
Image caption There was no sign of Ched Evans at training on Wednesday

Sheffield United should reconsider their decision to allow ex-player Ched Evans to train with the club after his rape conviction, a local MP has said.

Evans, 25, was freed last month after serving half of a five-year jail sentence, and maintains he is innocent.

Paul Blomfield said the club's move "sends a disturbing message to young people and victims of sexual violence".

Three club patrons have now resigned but United said no decision on whether to re-sign Evans had been made.

Almost 157,000 people have signed a petition urging Sheffield United not to take the striker back. The club had chosen not to renew his contract following his conviction and he is currently out of contract.

TV presenter Charlie Webster announced on Tuesday she was standing down as a Sheffield United patron, saying the club had failed to acknowledge the "extremity" of Evan's crime.

Her announcement was followed by the resignations of two more patrons - 1960s pop star Dave Berry and school food and health adviser Lindsay Graham. Mr Berry told the BBC he was "disappointed... I needed to make a moral stand". Ms Graham said she was standing down for "personal" reasons.

Meanwhile, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg - the MP for Sheffield Hallam - reiterated his earlier statement that footballers have a "public responsibility to set an example for other people".

He told LBC Radio: "I think the owners need to think really long and hard about the fact that when you take a footballer on, you are not taking just a footballer these days, you are also taking on a role model."

In a letter to Sheffield United's co-chairmen Kevin McCabe and Jim Phipps posted on his Facebook page, Mr Blomfield said he had been contacted by many constituents about the case and had been talking privately to the club.

'Crime trivialised'

The Sheffield United supporter said he had not commented publicly on the issue because he was confident the Blades would make the "right decision in accordance with the values of our club... sadly it appears I was wrong".

Mr Blomfield, Labour MP for Sheffield Central, said: "Everybody deserves a second chance, but with such serious offences this is based on offenders recognising the gravity of their crimes and seeking to make good for them. Since his release Ched Evans has not taken this first step towards rehabilitation, but has trivialised his crime."

He said the club should make its decisions on the basis that Evans was an "unrepentant convicted rapist".

In his letter, Mr Blomfield added the "way this issue has been handled by the club is dragging our name through the mud and dividing fans... I really hope that you will reflect further and change your mind".

On Tuesday, Sheffield United said it had granted Evans permission to train with the side following a request from the Professional Footballers' Association. But there was no sign of Evans at Sheffield United's training ground on Wednesday morning.

The Wales international footballer was jailed in April 2012 for raping a woman in a hotel room in Rhyl. He says the sex was consensual.

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 Cases Review Commission.

Professional Footballers' Association chief Gordon Taylor said in a statement that the case was provoking "strong feelings" but the union's role was to help its members even if they had been in prison.

"It is a fundamental part of the justice system in this country and society in general that a person serves the punishment which the court determines is appropriate and, providing that has been done, an individual is entitled to be released to continue with his or her life," he said.

"Needless to say, as part of that is a return to his or her career and that remains the case for professional footballers as it does for any other individual."

Meanwhile, Sheffield United's main shirt sponsor, John Holland Sales, said it "remains committed to its commercial partnership" with the club but would re-evaluate its position if Evans was actually re-employed.

The company said it had been told been told by the Blades that the agreement to allow Evans to train was to enable him "to return to a level of fitness which might allow him to seek employment within football".

Sheffield United's back-of-the-shirt sponsors, DBL Logistics, said it would continue to offer financial support in the current situation, but would withdraw it "if the club employed a convicted rapist".

Both companies said they condemned rape and violence against women.

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