Rapist compared to Guildford Four

Ched EvansChed Evans played for Sheffield United before he was jailed in April 2012 and was permitted to train with the club on his release

The Professional Footballers' Association of Ireland has come to the defence of convicted rapist and former Sheffield United footballer Ched Evans.

Evans was jailed in April 2012 for raping a 19-year-old woman in a hotel room in May 2011. He was released last month.

The association's solicitor, Stuart Gilhooly, said Evans could be innocent.

He said that while a jury convicted him of the crime, the same applied to the Guildford Four and the Birmingham Six.

The Guildford Four and the Birmingham Six were initially convicted of involvement in an IRA bombing campaign that claimed several lives.

The verdicts in both cases were overturned after the ten accused spent many years in prison.

Mr Gilhooly wrote an article on the Professional Footballers' Association of Ireland website referring to Evans' crime as "alleged", despite the fact the footballer was found guilty of raping the woman in a hotel room in Rhyl, North Wales, and sentenced to five years.

The article has since been removed from the website.

The solicitor said he believed that whether Evans was guilty or innocent, the footballer deserved another chance.

'No violence'

Sheffield United allowed Evans to resume training at the club following his release from prison last month.

In his online article, Mr Gilhooly wrote: "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."

Mr Gilhooly said it was "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," he said.

"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.

"Maybe he is guilty or perhaps he's innocent, none of us knows for sure. Surely, either way, he deserves a chance at redemption. Don't we all?"

His comments come in the wake of musician Paul Heaton's resignation as a patron of Sheffield United's Community Foundation over the club's decision to allow Evans to train with the club.

TV presenter Charlie Webster, sixties pop star Dave Berry and Sheffield businesswoman Lindsay Graham have all resigned as patrons of the club since Evans returned to training.

Olympic athlete Jessica Ennis-Hill asked for her name to removed from a stand at the club's Bramall Lane ground if Evans returns full-time.

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