Sheffield United patron Webster resigns over Evans decision
Television presenter Charlie Webster has resigned as a patron of Sheffield United after the club allowed former player and convicted rapist Ched Evans to return for training.
Campaigners against sexual violence have criticised the club for allowing the 25-year-old to regain his fitness following his release from prison where he served half of a five-year-term.
Webster, who revealed in an interview earlier this year that she was sexually assaulted as a teenager, had vowed to quit her role if the club re-signed Evans.
On Tuesday, the League One club released a lengthy statement explaining they had not yet decided whether to re-sign Evans, but said they agreed with a request from the Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA) to let him train.
In an interview on BBC Newsnight, Webster said she had had a conversation with the chairman of the club, which she described as ”positive” but she added that she felt she had to make a decision after Evans returned to training.
She said: "At no point have Sheffield United acknowledged the extremity of his crime. I think it’s over 155,000 people now that have signed a petition against Ched Evans going back to the club. Nobody’s making a decision and I suppose I feel I need to make a decision as patron of Sheffield United.
"My decision, which I’ve informed the club about a little bit earlier on, is that I resign as patron of Sheffield United, Sheffield United Community Foundation, which is all about inspiring the next generation through sport.
"My decision is made on the fact that I don’t believe a convicted rapist, as in Ched Evans, should go back to a club that I am patron of and should go back into the community to represent the community.
"He’s not just going into a job, he’s bandied as a role model, we cheer him on as a role model and he’s influencing the next generation of young men who are currently still making their decisions on how to treat women and what sexual mutual consent is."
Manager Nigel Clough insists Sheffield United did not rush into their decision to allow convicted rapist Ched Evans to train with the club.
Clough said on Sky Sports News: "I think everything has been deliberated properly, nobody has rushed into any decisions at the club.
"Everybody realises the gravity of the situation and seriousness of everything and that’s why it has taken so long to even get to this stage.
"It has been prompted by the PFA and that’s as far as it goes now. We deliberated as a club for some weeks and came to this decision. According to the law of the land he is entitled an opportunity to resume his career."
United’s statement made it clear the club were "not prepared at this time" to make a decision on whether to re-sign Evans as a player.
And on whether allowing Evans to train at the club would lead to a potential deal at Bramall Lane, Clough added: "That’s a long way from being true. The statement said that he is purely down to train with us and we will take it from there."
In a further interview with BBC Radio Sheffield, Clough said there is no timescale on when a decision will be made on whether to offer Evans a deal and doing so is not at the top of his things to do.
"It’s nowhere near being decided as it said in the statement," he added. "It goes in stages. How you can sign a player who hasn’t played for two years and seven months? I don’t think anyone is in a position to do that.
"We don’t have a timescale on it, believe it or not it’s not at the top of our priorities.
"We have four games in 10 days, two in the cup and two in the league, which will determine whether we are going to stay in those competitions and get back into the top six. That is our priority. Not a player who is training with us at the moment.
"I have no idea on the plan for him. The statement was just released yesterday, the next stage is sorting out some sort of training programme."
Clough admitted that he was consulted in the decision but refused to comment on whether he is in personal agreement with his club’s decision, which has received widespread backlash and condemnation.
"Everything the club want to say at this time is contained within the statement," he said. "It said at the bottom that the club won’t be commenting any further and I will adhere to that.
"All the staff at the club have been consulted, as an employee, I have been consulted like everybody else."
Sheffield United said they had considered the views of staff, the Football League and the PFA, as well as United supporters and the general public, as expressed in "emails, social media comments, editorials, supporter websites, public petitions and media coverage".
They also considered the PFA view that footballers should be treated equally before the law, in terms of being allowed to be rehabilitated.
The club also said Evans – who protests his innocence – acknowledged "the destructive nature of the acts which led to his conviction".
Sheffield United said they condemned rape and violence against women in the "strongest possible terms".
Evans was jailed in April 2012 for raping a woman in a hotel room in Rhyl, North Wales.
The Welsh striker denied rape, saying the sex was consensual, but he was found guilty by a jury at Caernarfon Crown Court.