A lawyer for a body representing footballers has likened convicted rapist Ched Evans to the Guildford Four as a fourth high-profile Sheffield United patron resigned over the ongoing row.
The Professional Footballers’ Association of Ireland defended Evans on their official website, claiming he could be innocent and that even if guilty, he deserves a chance of redemption.
It came after former Housemartins and Beautiful South frontman Paul Heaton stepped down as a patron of Sheffield United’s Community Foundation, following the examples of TV presenter Charlie Webster, 60s pop star Dave Berry and Sheffield businesswoman Lindsay Graham since Evans returned to training with the Yorkshire club.
An article written by the association’s solicitor Stuart Gilhooly refers to Evans’ crime as alleged despite the fact he was found guilty in court and served half of a five-year jail sentence.
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.
“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.”
He added: “How can Evans apologise? He is convinced, and has a good argument, that he is not guilty of rape. If he apologised, then he is admitting a crime he feels he didn’t commit. Who would do that?
“But Ched Evans has served his time, whether he is innocent or guilty. He puts the ball in the net so eventually someone will take a chance on him.”
Wales international Evans was jailed in April 2012 for raping a 19-year-old woman in a hotel room in Rhyl, north Wales.
The striker denied raping the woman, saying the sex was consensual, but he was found guilty by a jury at Caernarfon Crown Court.
He was released from prison last month after serving half of the five-year sentence.
An appeal against his 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.
After his release, Evans put a video on his website protesting his innocence and vowing to clear his name.
Campaigners against sexual violence have criticised the club’s decision to allow Evans, 25, to train with the team.
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.
The Guildford Four were released from jail in 1989 after their convictions for alleged roles in IRA bombings were overturned, while the Birmingham Six – jailed over similar allegations – had their convictions quashed in 1991.