Footballer Ched Evans’s conviction for raping a 19-year-old woman has been referred to the British Court of Appeal, the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) has said.
Evans, 26, was released from prison last year after serving half of his five year sentence for raping the woman in a hotel in Rhyl in April 2012.
The former Sheffield United and Wales footballer has always maintained his innocence but his attempts to restart his career with Oldham Athletic and his former club collapsed in the face of a public outcry.
The CCRC said the referral has been made on the basis of new information not raised at trial which it believes could have added support to Evans's defence.
There is “a real possibility that the Court of Appeal may now quash the conviction”, it added.
Commission chair Richard Foster said: “The decision of the commission is not a judgment on guilt or innocence in relation to Ched Evans, nor is it a judgment about the honesty or integrity of the victim or any other person involved in the case.
“Our role is to consider applications to see if, in our judgment, there is any basis on which to ask the court to hear a fresh appeal – that is our statutory responsibility.
“In this case we have identified new material which was not considered by the jury at trial and which, in our view, might have assisted the defence. In those circumstances, it is right and proper for the matter to be before the court so that they can decide whether or not the new information should affect the verdict in this case.”
Evans was jailed at Caernarfon Crown Court in April 2012. An earlier appeal against his conviction was rejected by three judges at the Court of Appeal later that year.
The Court of Appeal is now obliged to hear a fresh appeal. There is no need for an application for leave to appeal, the commission said.
The referral follows a 10-month investigation by the CCRC. It said it has set out its reasons for Monday’s decision in a 49-page document which will not be released to the public.
In its statement, the CCRC said it was very aware of the impact its decisions can have for victims of crimes and stressed the anonymity guaranteed by law for the victim in this case.
It said: “We have been particularly mindful of the targeted abuse suffered by the victim in this case and have sought to act accordingly.
“Since this application arrived in July 2014, we have been careful to keep her informed about stages of the commission’s review so that, as far as it has been in our power to do so, she has learned about developments in the case from us rather than from any other source.”
Evans's family and his girlfriend Natasha Massey have mounted a vocal campaign to have the conviction quashed.
A statement on the campaign’s website said: “Ched and those who closely support him have always maintained that he was wrongly convicted and, using new information that was not presented at his trial, we expect that in time his conviction will be quashed.
“The decision to refer Ched’s case is welcomed by all who know the true facts and Ched would like to thank all those who have supported him since his conviction in April 2012 and his subsequent release from prison in October 2014.
“In particular the support he received from football fans from many clubs kept his spirits high in the most difficult of circumstances but in particular the support from the many Sheffield United fans who stayed in contact with him.”