Football: Evans expresses regret but denies rape; Blades consider taking him back

LONDON (AFP) - Convicted rapist Ched Evans expressed "regret" on Sunday over his actions but insisted he had not committed a crime as he spoke out for the first time since his release from prison.

He was released on Friday after serving half of his five-year sentence for raping a 19-year-old woman in a hotel, with Sheffield United widely criticised for considering the possibility of allowing the 25-year-old to resume his career at his former club.

Many Blades fans have called for Evans to be rehabilitated but almost 150,000 people have signed an online petition urging United, who play in English football's third-tier League One not to welcome him back.

In an interview with the Sunday Mirror, Evans apologised to his girlfriend, Natasha Massey, who has stood by him but did not address directly the woman he was convicted of raping. "It was something that should never have happened," said Evans. "And it is something that I will regret for the rest of my life.

"I cheated on my girlfriend and had sex with this girl - but it was definitely consensual."

It was reported on Saturday that the Wales striker had been offered a two-year contract by United worth more than £500,000 (S$1.03 million).

But the Yorkshire club refuted the report in a statement that said: "An article in The Sun (on Saturday) that Sheffield United has offered a contract to former player Ched Evans is false and damaging to the club... This latest media report does not warrant any expansion from previous comments apart from noting that we are continuing to deliberate on any long-term decision about Ched Evans."

Evans was jailed in April 2012 for raping a 19-year-old woman in a hotel room in Rhyl, North Wales.

He denied the offence but was found guilty by a jury at Caernarfon Crown Court.

Evans admitted having sex with her but the woman told the jury she had no memory of the incident.

The prosecution said the woman, who cannot be named for legal reasons, was too drunk to consent to sexual intercourse.

An appeal against Evans' conviction was rejected by three judges at the Court of Appeal in 2012.

Massey has led a campaign to have the conviction overturned and Evans' case is due to be reviewed by the Criminal Case Review Commission in the coming weeks.

Earlier this week, Blades manager Nigel Clough said the matter had been discussed by the club's hierarchy.

He said the decision was not his to make but would be made by the club "in good time".

Britain's Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said on Thursday that United's owners should "think really long and hard" before deciding whether to allow Evans back.

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