CONVICTED rapist Ched Evans condemned the online abuse of his victim but continued to maintain his innocence as his attempt to restart his football career at Oldham Athletic collapsed.
The 26-year-old made the comments as he apologised about what he called “the effects” of the events in a North Wales hotel room which led to his rape conviction.
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The former Sheffield United and Wales striker “wholeheartedly” apologised “for the effects that night in Rhyl has had on many people, not least the woman concerned”.
Evans has served half of a five-year sentence for raping a 19-year-old woman in a hotel room in Rhyl in 2011, and remains on licence.
Since his conviction, his victim, who has a legal right to anonymity for life, has moved home five times as online trolls repeatedly tracked her down and revealed her new identity.
Evans said today: “Whilst I continue to maintain my innocence, I wish to make it clear that I wholeheartedly apologise for the effects that night in Rhyl has had on many people, not least the woman concerned.
“Finally, it has been claimed that those using social media in an abusive and vindictive way towards this woman are supporters of mine. I wish to make it clear that these people are not my supporters and I condemn their actions entirely and will continue to do so.”
He added: “Upon legal advice, I was told not to discuss the events in question. This silence has been misinterpreted as arrogance and I would like to state that this could not be further from the truth.”
The collapse of Oldham’s attempt to sign Evans today has been welcomed by groups who have campaigned against the Welsh international’s return to football.
One Oldham board member said the deal had been called off partly due to threats to staff and their families, although Greater Manchester Police said they were not aware of any threats to anyone connected to the club.
Oldham Council leader Jim McMahon said: “The whole episode has divided the town and public opinion and there are no winners in all this - not least of all the reputation of our club and town.
“In recent days we’ve seen an horrendous ‘trial by social media’ with intimidation, abuse and harassment on a scale that has cast a terrible shadow.
“I am urging people on all sides of this debate to please now take stock, show some restraint and calm.
But the Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA) said in a statement: “The PFA’s position remains the same, as we have expressed previously, that any club which decides to sign him would receive our support.
“We fully recognise that this is a delicate and emotive case and entirely respect that there are opposing views.”
Prime Minister David Cameron said today that he believed it was “not for politicians to pick football teams”.
But he told LBC Radio: “As for people in this position, surely the position is to recognise when you have done something wrong and you have been punished, rightly punished, you have to work your way back.
“That might mean doing more voluntary work, putting more back in, in order to demonstrate to the public, the country, the football-loving country we are, that you are really sorry about what happened and you want to atone for what you have done.”
Evans denied raping the 19-year-old woman, saying the sex in the hotel was consensual, but he was found guilty by a jury at Caernarfon Crown Court in April 2012.
The prosecution said the woman was too drunk to consent to sexual intercourse.
Port Vale defender Clayton McDonald also admitted having sex with the victim but was found not guilty of the same charge.
Evans’s supporters have mounted a vigorous campaign to overturn his conviction, including setting up a website detailing what they say are the flaws in the case against him.
The appeal against Evans’s conviction was rejected by three judges at the Court of Appeal in 2012 and the case is currently being considered by the Criminal Cases Review Commission.
After his release, Evans published a video on his website protesting his innocence and vowing to clear his name.
He said: “It is my hope that I will be able to return to football.
“If that is possible then I will do so with humility, having learnt a very painful lesson.
“I would like a second chance.”
His former club, Sheffield United, refused to say whether they would look to re-sign him after he was let out of prison but there was uproar when the Bramall Lane club offered to let him train at their facilities.
More than 150,000 people signed an online petition against that decision and the offer was eventually removed.
The Football Association (FA) had been urged to intervene to prevent Evans returning to the professional game.
Labour has asked the FA to block the deal, arguing that allowing him to return to the game will undermine efforts to encourage female fans and players.
Shadow sports minister Clive Efford wrote to FA chairman Greg Dyke to say the decision should not be Oldham’s to take.
Evans scored 42 goals in 103 games for the Blades, having previously played for Manchester City and Norwich City.
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