Police commissioner calls on Newcastle United owner to ditch Sports Direct’s Oldham sponsorship in Ched Evans row

Ched Evans, while playing for Sheffield United.
Ched Evans, while playing for Sheffield United.

Northumbria Police and Crime Commissioner Vera Baird has called on Newcastle owner Mike Ashley to scrap his sponsorship of Oldham Athletic if the club goes ahead with the signing of convicted rapist Ched Evans.

Ms Baird, who has put domestic violence at the top of her agenda, has written to the Newcastle boss after speculation that his firm Sports Direct would not drop £1million worth of sponsorship with Oldham if club signed the former Sheffield United striker, who was convicted of rape in April 2012.

In her letter, Ms Baird said: “It is tantamount to saying that sexual abuse is okay as long as you can play football. If Oldham Athletic decide to appoint him, I would urge you to withdraw Sports Direct sponsorship at the club.”

The letter

Dear Mr Ashley,

I am writing to you following media speculation that Oldham Athletic Football Club has received reassurances from its biggest sponsor Sports Direct that they will not withdraw £1million sponsorship if Oldham sign Ched Evans, despite Oldham’s main stand sponsors Verlin Rainwater Solutions saying it will end its association with the club if Evans signs.

As the owner of a great football club Newcastle United, you know the pride that fans have in their club, the players and the heritage of the club. My office works closely with Newcastle United Foundation and has funded a number of initiatives working with young people to help them understand what is right and wrong. Your football players are an inspiration and we are well aware that players are role models for thousands of young people, like the ones we have met and talked to at events. This pride will be the same for the young people who live in Oldham.

As you know, the passion of football is in Newcastle’s blood and I know passions also run high at Oldham Athletic; the team of my home town and one which I have watched many times, especially when I lived there as a young person.

Footballers are role models and it is wrong that Oldham Athletic are considering signing Ched Evans, who is a convicted rapist.

I have a strong commitment to rehabilitation of people who have accepted their guilt and served their penalty and giving work to these people is part of that. However, Ched Evans does not seek rehabilitation from his criminality. He denies the crime and supports the use of a website which persecutes his victim - www.chedevans.com

The Lord Chief Justice said there were no grounds whatsoever for an appeal and it is clear that Evans had sex without consent when no reasonable man would have thought she was consenting because she was too drunk to do so – https://www.crimeline.info/case/r-v-ched-evans-chedwyn-evans

There is no clash of evidence which could justify any attack on her character. Nothing could justify the hounding which has caused her to move house five times (http://www.theguardian.com/football/2014/dec/28/ched-evans-rape-victim-change-name-move-house-father) and which Ched Evans has been called on to disown or stop but, having failed to do either, has condoned.

He should not be taken on as a footballer with the high profile heroism that young people attach to such figures. It is tantamount to saying that sexual abuse is okay as long as you can play football. If Oldham Athletic decide to appoint him, I would urge you to withdraw Sports Direct sponsorship at the club.

Sports Direct needs to speak out now, before any board meeting. Your stance needs to be unequivocally clear – that there is no place in British football for unrepentant convicted rapists.

Taking the right decision today will show all victims of rape – whether female or male - that the trauma they face in reporting such a crime isn’t in vain.

Yours sincerely,

Vera Baird

Vera Baird QC

Police & Crime Commissioner – Northumbria