Ched Evans: the dangers of mob justice

Petitioners and celebs are trashing the idea of redemption.

Duleep Allirajah

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Topics Politics

Right, here goes. Tin hat on. I think that Ched Evans should be allowed to resume his football career.

I don’t know what’s worse: the frothing hysteria over the possibility that convicted rapist Evans might resume his professional football career, or the shrill denunciations of anyone who thinks he should as a rape apologist and misogynist. It reminds me of the febrile and intolerant world of student politics I encountered in the 1980s. If you found someone else’s views objectionable, you shouted them down or demanded ‘No Platform’. No one could criticise pro-censorship feminists like Andrea Dworkin if they weren’t female, nor could they take issue with the anti-Apartheid movement if they weren’t black. If you criticised Arthur Scargill for refusing to hold a national ballot during the Miners’ Strike then you were branded a ‘scab’. I expected nothing less from the childish, febrile shouting contest that passed for student politics. Ad hominem arguments – ‘playing the man not the ball’ in football parlance – are symptomatic of an immature, dishonest strain of politics. If you can’t win the debate, just impugn your opponent’s motives or character. The problem is that those cowardly tactics have migrated from university campuses into mainstream politics.

The Ched Evans controversy is a perfect illustration of all that is rotten in the state of modern politics. First, there’s the medieval view that a convicted criminal who has served his time should not be allowed to return to his trade, which is effectively to punish him twice. Then there’s the demand that a man who still maintains his innocence should show remorse and grovel for forgiveness before he is permitted a second chance. And, just for good measure, there’s the attempt to smear anyone who has the temerity to defend Evans’ right to a second chance as a woman-hater and rape apologist. Who needs the Islamic State or Sharia Law when mainstream British politics has become so poisonous and illiberal?

I shouldn’t have to say this, but I simply don’t see how defending an important principle of justice – that a man convicted of rape should be given a second chance – makes you a rape apologist. No one is saying Evans shouldn’t have been sent down. No one is suggesting that rape isn’t a serious crime. It’s not the crime we are defending; it’s the concept that offenders can be rehabilitated after they have served their custodial sentence. I thought we’d left the Dark Ages behind, and moved on from the belief that some people are innately evil, that they can never be reformed. I thought we lived in a civilised society where people who committed crimes could be offered a second chance, a society that accepted people could learn from their mistakes, change their ways and be afforded a shot at redemption. Clearly I was wrong. The spirit of the Dark Ages is very much alive and well, and it’s trampling all over foolish modern ideas like freedom of speech and the rule of law.

Thankfully, not everyone has yielded to the baying hordes of online petitioners who want Evans to be punished in perpetuity. In a rare display of backbone, the usually craven Professional Footballers’ Association has defended one of its own members. ‘Having served his time, he should be allowed to reintegrate back into society and contribute [to] the profession that he’s most suited to’, said PFA chief Gordon Taylor. Initially, Evans’ former employers, Sheffield United, bullishly defended their decision to let him train with the club, saying: ‘In a nation of laws, served by an elected parliament and duly constituted courts of law, there can be no place for “mob justice”.’ However, as soon as celebrity patrons, including Jessica Ennis-Hill, TV presenter Charlie Webster and pop singer Paul Heaton, began to sever their association with the club, the Blades ditched their high-minded principles and decided that there was a place for mob justice after all. The club retracted its offer to let Evans train, saying that the public reaction ‘has been at an intensity that could not have been anticipated’. In other words: Mob Justice 1, Rehabilitation 0.

The furore over Ched Evans bears a striking resemblance to the contemporary free-speech debate. Those who call for censorship pay lip service to the notion of free speech. But they say there are exceptions. They support free speech but not for racists or homophobes or paedophiles or indeed anyone whose views cross some arbitrary ‘hate speech’ threshold. Similarly, those who do not want Ched Evans to resume his football career will not explicitly say that the rehabilitation of convicts is a bad idea. But they argue that there are exceptions. Evans, they say, has forfeited his right to a second chance by not showing remorse or apologising to his victim.

Now, I really don’t have a clue whether or not Evans was wrongfully convicted, as he claims. But the man is fighting to clear his name, so I fail to see why his rehabilitation should be conditional on a show of remorse. Why apologise for a crime which he maintains he didn’t commit? Equally specious is the argument that professional footballers are role models and therefore can’t expect to return to their old jobs. As I’ve argued before, it’s ridiculous to see professional sportsmen as moral templates. Their job is to excel at sport, not teach other people’s children how to behave. That’s the job of parents. If the moral fabric of society is at risk of unravelling just because of the misbehaviour of a few professional footballers, then we really are up shit creek.

Rape is a serious crime, which is rightly punishable with a jail sentence. But once a person convicted of rape has served his time and is freed by a parole board, he is legally entitled to return to work. He shouldn’t suffer the extrajudicial punishment of being debarred from returning to his former profession. Giving offenders a second chance is a humane and just principle. This isn’t an issue which should only concern fans of Sheffield United. If we allow hysterical e-campaigners to trash the notion of redemption for criminals, then justice itself is damaged.

Duleep Allirajah is spiked’s sports columnist. Follow him on Twitter: @DuleepOffside.

To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.

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