Stuart Gilhooly insists Ched Evans the ‘victim of a witch hunt’

PFAI solicitor was responding to criticism of his article comparing footballer’s treatment to the Guildford Four

 Jessica Ennis-Hill wants her name to be removed from a stand at Sheffield United’s Bramall Lane stadium if the club choose to re-sign Ched Evans. Photograph: PA Wire.

Jessica Ennis-Hill wants her name to be removed from a stand at Sheffield United’s Bramall Lane stadium if the club choose to re-sign Ched Evans. Photograph: PA Wire.

 

Professional Footballers’ Association of Ireland (PFAI) solicitor Stuart Gilhooly has defended his opinions on the Ched Evans case and said the convicted rapist is “being victimised” in his search to return to football after his release from jail.

Evans, a Welsh international, was jailed in April 2012 for raping a 19-year-old woman in a hotel room in Rhyl, North Wales. He was released from prison last month after serving half of the five-year sentence and has since returned to training with Sheffield United.

In an article published on, and since removed from, the PFAI’s website, Gilhooly said: “This crime, as alleged, was at the bottom end. There was no violence and thankfully the victim has no recollection of it. This, I hasten to add, does not make it right, or anything close to it, but it is nonetheless a mitigating factor.”

He added: “It’s not easy to muster up too much sympathy for Evans but there is surely nothing worse than being accused of a crime which you genuinely believe you didn’t commit. The argument against that is that a jury convicted him of the crime. The same applied to the Guildford Four and the Birmingham Six. They got no public sympathy either.”

Gilhooly then asked how Evans can apologise for a crime he believes he didn’t commit and suggested his offence was similar to that of many men on a daily basis.

“If having sex with a drunk woman is rape then thousands of men are guilty of rape every day. The simple point is that degrees of intoxication are a very difficult concept for young men to grapple with when they themselves have had plenty to drink,” he wrote.

Speaking to the BBC today, Gilhooly insisted that his blog made clear the victim in the Evans case was in no way to blame, but that the player was a victim too.

“I do think, however, that we need to have some cognisance of the fact that Ched Evans is being victimised here himself,” he said. “I appreciate that the lady in question has been through an appalling time and I wouldn’t seek in any way to make that worse, but he is continuing to be the victim of a witch hunt and my own personal belief is that whether or not he is guilty of that crime, he deserves a second chance of playing football.”

Asked why he used the term “alleged” when Evans has been found guilty and served a sentence, Gilhooly said: “At the moment the matter is still under appeal and I think it is only right that we should continue to use alleged until all appeals have been exhausted.”

The case is, in fact, under “review” with the Criminal Cases Review Commission in England, after three High Court judges decided an “appeal” wasn’t worth sending forward.

Gilhooly explained the comparison to Birmingham Six and Guildford Four, saying: “Simply because a jury convicts you doesn’t mean you are guilty. The world is full of miscarriages of justices where juries have convicted people. He (Evans) says he did not commit the crime. As far as I’m concerned, he is entitled to make that case.”

Gilhooly’s blog was a regular fixture on the old PFAI website but a recent redesign meant the Evans article was the only one of his on the site.

In a legal analysis of the Luis Suarez racism verdict two years ago, Gilhooly also referenced the Birmingham Six and the Guildford Four when arguing the Uruguayan’s eight-match ban for racially abusing Patrice Evra was excessive and there was “a reasonable chance of success on appeal.”

PFAI general secretary Stephen McGuinness told the BBC it was the association’s call to take the blog down.

“We decided to take it down, it was our decision,” said McGuinness. “We decided to take it down this morning as soon as we came in.”

Efforts made by The Irish Times to contact McGuinness and Gilhooly today went unanswered.

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