UK & World News
Petition To Stop Ched Evans' Sheffield Return
Almost 60,000 people have signed an online petition urging Sheffield United not to re-employ disgraced footballer Ched Evans.
The striker is due to be released from prison in the autumn after serving a sentence for raping a 19-year-old woman.
Campaigners say his return to Sheffield would send out a damaging message about rape.
Speaking exclusively to Sky News his girlfriend says he should be allowed to return to professional football.
Jurors found Evans guilty following a two week trial in 2012.
The Prosecution argued that when Evans had sex with his victim in a hotel bedroom she was too drunk to consent.
His friend and fellow footballer Clayton MacDonald was cleared of the same charge, but Evans was given a five-year sentence following a unanimous guilty verdict.
He will be released in October after serving half of his term.
Alan Smith, who is a member of the Sheffield United Supporters Club executive, told Sky News that he's been given an assurance that Evans will be returning to Bramall Lane.
He believes that most fans will welcome the club's former top goal-scorer back.
"He has served his time, he has served his sentence and we would have him back. Good players like that have got to carry on playing and if not for Sheffield United it would be for someone else, and we would regret that," he said.
But Rape Crisis England and Wales say they are seriously concerned about reports of Evans' possible return.
The organisation does not usually comment on specific cases, but has made a rare exception in appealing to the Sheffield club.
Director of communications Katie Russell said: "It is of course any convicted criminal's right to serve their sentence and then go back into employment. We absolutely stand by that.
"But at the same time we would urge Sheffield United to think very carefully about the message that they send when they immediately re-employ someone who's been convicted of such a very serious crime.
"If they choose to do that, which is their right, we urge them to seriously consider the impact that will have on huge numbers of their supporters and we urge them to make a very strong statement condemning sexual violence, condemning violence against women and girls and making it clear that misogyny, sexism, violence and sexual violence in particular won't be tolerated within football."
Ched Evans' girlfriend Natasha Massey told Sky News that he is determined to clear his name and rejected the possibility of being "in denial" about his guilt.
"At the time I was devastated. I was heartbroken, but the fact that Ched got charged with this crime, that kind of took over the fact that he had cheated so I dealt with that myself," she said.
"It wasn't nice for the whole world to know what happened. My boyfriend had sex with another woman and that wasn't nice for the world to see, but I stood by Ched and still do.
"If Ched wasn't a professional footballer we wouldn't be having this conversation, because that was his job before he went to prison.
"That's part of the whole rehabilitation process when you leave the prison and you go back to work. All Ched wants to do is go back to work, do the job that he loves, play football, score goals and then just come home and have a family life."
Ched Evans' attempts to overturn his conviction have twice been rejected, but his legal team has now referred his case to the independent Criminal Cases Review Commission in another effort to clear his name.
Sheffield United have refused to comment on reports that manager Nigel Clough has been to visit Evans in prison but has confirmed that the club was in contact with him "subsequent to his conviction".
Although some Blades fans at the club's Bramall Lane ground said they did not want the player back the majority - both men and women - said his return would be welcomed.