Footballer Ched Evans has been found not guilty of raping a teenager at a hotel in north Wales, following a two week retrial.
The one-time Wales international and current Chesterfield striker, who fought a five-year battle to clear his name, wept and hugged his partner Natasha Massey following the verdict at Cardiff Crown Court on Friday (14 October).
Evans, 27, admitted to having sex with the 19-year-old waitress at a hotel in Rhyl and cheating on his girlfriend in the process – but always insisted it had been consensual.
He had maintained his innocence from the very outset – saying the woman had invited him to "join in" a 4am romp with a fellow footballer.
Evans spent two and a half years in prison for rape after his original conviction, which was later quashed by the appeal court.
A jury took three hours to reach their not-guilty verdict at his retrial, with both claps and gasps heard from the public gallery following the acquittal.
The overturning of the conviction comes after controversial new evidence uncovered about the woman's previous sexual history was allowed to be heard in court.
The woman had told the jury she awoke naked in Premier Inn in Rhyl the morning after the alleged rape in May 2011 with no memory but fearing her drink had been spiked and she had been the victim of a sex attack.
She had been seen on CCTV the night before staggering outside the nightclub Zu Bar and falling over in a kebab shop. She then entered a taxi with footballer and Evans' friend, Clayton McDonald, with the pair travelling to the Premier Inn.
During the journey, McDonald texted Evans: "I've got a bird."
Evans later arrived at the hotel in a taxi and obtained a key for the room from a receptionist, the court heard. He entered the room to find McDonald having sex with the woman, and claimed the pair looked at him before McDonald asked the woman: "Can my mate join in?" Evans said the woman replied: "Yes."
Evans insisted he then had consensual sex before leaving out a fire exit.
The prosecution claimed the woman could not have consented due to her being too intoxicated.
After the Wales international striker lost his first appeal four years ago his family employed private investigators to gather new evidence, offering a £50,000 reward for information leading to his acquittal.
They spoke to two men who had sex with the woman in the months before she alleged she had been raped by the footballer in May 2011.
They both gave accounts of the woman's sexual preferences that were similar to the description put forward by Evans at his original trial and supported his assertion that she did consent to sex with him in the hotel room.
In March this year the striker's lawyers told a new hearing before the Court of Appeal that this new evidence had not been available at his trial and that undermined the safety of his conviction.
Appeal judges Lady Justice Hallett, Mr Justice Flaux and Sir David Maddison allowed the appeal but ordered a retrial.
Normally in trials involving sexual offences, a complainant's sexual history is not put before a jury.
But Evans's legal team sought permission under Section 41 of the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act to question the complainant at his new trial about the statements the two men had made.
"They all describe a woman who in May and June 2011, having been out drinking, engaged in sexual intercourse with her in particular positions and used a distinctive expression demanding intercourse with her harder," Lady Justice Hallett said.
"Their accounts [have] sufficiently close resemblance to the appellant's account as to make the evidence 'so similar' that it cannot be reasonably explained as a coincidence."
Evans' barrister relied upon the "striking detail" of the statements given by the two men when compared with his client's account.
In a statement read outside Cardiff Crown Court, Evans said he was "overwhelmed with relief" following the not guilty verdict.
The statement said: "In the early hours of 30 May 2011, an incident occurred in north Wales that was to change my life and the lives of others forever. That incident did not involve the commission of a criminal offence and today I am overwhelmed with relief that the jury agreed.
"I would like to thank my legal team... for their tireless efforts upon my behalf. Thanks go, too, to my friends and family; most notably my fiancee, Natasha, who chose, perhaps incredibly, to support me in my darkest hour.
"Whilst my innocence has now been established, I wish to make it clear that I wholeheartedly apologise to anyone who might have been affected by the events of the night in question."
How the case against Ched Evans unfolded:
- 30 May, 2011 - Evans and his friend, footballer Clayton McDonald, have sex with a woman at a Premier Inn, near Rhyl, North Wales.
- 31 May, 2011 - Evans, then a Sheffield United striker, and McDonald, who was playing for Port Vale, are both arrested. They are later charged.
- 20 April, 2012 - Evans is convicted of raping a 19-year-old woman and sentenced to five years in prison following a trial at Caernarfon Crown Court. Co-accused McDonald is found not guilty.
- 30 May, 2012 - Evans, who has been capped 13 times by Wales, is released by Sheffield United at the end of the football season.
- 6 November, 2012 - The Court of Appeal refuses him leave to appeal his conviction or reduce the length of his sentence.
- 17 October, 2014 - Evans is released from prison after serving half of his sentence.
- 11 November, 2014 - Sheffield United faces a public backlash after saying it would let him train with them, an offer it later withdrew. TV presenter and club patron Charlie Webster quits and Olympic champion Jessica Ennis-Hill demands her name be taken off the Bramall Lane stand in protest.
- 8 January, 2015 - Oldham Athletic pulls out of a deal to sign Evans following another public backlash.
- 5 October, 2015 - Evans's case is referred to the Court of Appeal by the Criminal Case Review Commission on the basis of new information after a 10-month investigation.
- 22 March, 2016 - The appeal hearing is held at the High Court in London.
- 21 April, 2016 - Evans wins appeal against conviction and is granted unconditional bail. The footballer faces a re-trial at Cardiff Crown Court before Mrs Justice Nicola Davies.
- 27 May, 2016 - Evans pleads not guilty to a single charge of rape.
- 20 June, 2016 - The footballer signs a one year contract with League One side Chesterfield FC.
- 23 July, 2016 - He scores in his first game in four years during a 3-0 pre-season friendly win for his new club against Ilkeston.
- 4 October, 2016 - Evans's rape retrial begins at Cardiff Crown Court.
- 14 October, 2016 - The footballer is cleared after a two-week retrial. The jury deliberated for three hours.