Footballer Ched Evans’s conviction for raping a 19-year-old woman will be a looked at again by judges after the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) said new evidence had emerged.
The commission has referred the case to the Court of Appeal saying the new information could have supported Evans’s defence and adding that there is “a real possibility that the Court of Appeal may now quash the conviction”.
The decision has been welcomed by the family of the former Sheffield United striker and Welsh international who have mounted a vocal support campaign since Evans, 26, was convicted in April 2012.
He was found guilty at Caernarfon Crown Court of raping the woman at a hotel in Rhyl.
Evans was released from prison last year after serving half of his five year sentence and this provoked a wave of criticism as he tried to return to the pitch.
His attempts to join Oldham Athletic and train with Sheffield United were thwarted by huge public outcries against the clubs.
CCRC 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 has appealed to the Court Appeal before but this move was rejected by three judges in 2012.
The court is now obliged to hear the fresh appeal following the CCRC’s referral, with no need for an application for leave.
In its statement, the commission said: “The referral is made on the basis of new information which was not raised at trial, and which in the view of the Commission, could have added support to Mr Evans’s defence at trial and therefore raises a real possibility that the Court of Appeal may now quash the conviction.”
The referral follows a 10-month investigation by the commission which 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 set up a website to campaign for the conviction to the be quashed.
In a statement on the site today, they 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.”