Convicted rapist Ched Evans will not be signed by bottom of the Football League Hartlepool United, the club has said.
They were linked with the 25-year-old Wales striker after new manager Ronnie Moore admitted he would like to bring in the proven goalscorer to help in the fight against relegation.
However, in an apparent Uturn. similar to the one which stopped Evans’s former club Sheffield United from bringing him back after his release from jail, and League Two’s bottom side issued a statement stressing they would not sign him.
It said: “Hartlepool United do not intend signing Ched Evans and, for the avoidance of doubt, will not be doing so, irrespective of his obvious ability as a football player.
“This story has emerged following an unsubstantiated internet rumour which the manager was asked to comment upon.
“The manager responded hypothetically to the situation by stating ‘if it could happen, I would want it to happen’.
“This response was based upon the player’s obvious ability as a footballer and as such has then been headlined by the media without asking the club for their official position.
“The club can fully understand the concerns of supporters and the general public and regrets any misconception portrayed.
“After a highly positive week at Hartlepool United following the takeover by new owners and the appointment of a new manager, the owners are saddened by this unfortunate turn of events and wish to draw a line under it immediately.”
Chairman Peter Harris added: “We are upset at the manner in which this story has escalated and wish to make it clear that the player will not be joining the club.
“All we are concentrating on is league survival and do not want anything to upset that goal.
“The club regrets any upset that may have been caused but we feel we must deal with this matter quickly and put the story to bed once and for all.”
Justice Secretary Chris Grayling told the Sky News Murnaghan programme that it was “desirable” for ex-offenders to return to employment but there were some jobs that people could not go back to.
As a result of his ministerial responsibilities, he insisted he would not comment directly on Evans’ case.
He told the show: “Given the fact that I am responsible for the probation system he is part of, I’m not going to comment on the individual case.
“What I would say is that where an offender leaves prison, clearly it is desirable that we get them back into employment, that we get them back into normal life so they don’t reoffend.
“There are some categories of profession where actually it is not possible to return to your previous job - working with children for example.
“So, therefore, this debate will always happen when somebody has a high-profile and controversial job.”
Hartlepool MP Iain Wright had said the club would be a “pariah” if they signed Evans. He welcomed the club’s clear statement.
The Labour MP told Sky Sports News: “This has been a momentous week for Hartlepool United, we have got new owners, we are still bottom of the league but we felt that this was a new chapter being written and we can now move on and make sure that our number one priority is league survival.
“The whole town will be united with what the new owners have done with this. I’m really pleased.
“The club recognises the importance a football club has on a town and the influence it has on its young fans.
“Having a rapist playing on the pitch, whether you like it or not players are role models for young people and the message it sends out that it is somehow acceptable to treat women this way is absolutely unacceptable.
“I’m pleased the new owners have nipped this in the bud and drawn a line under it.”
Fans on the Poolie Bunker forum had been split on bringing Evans in.
PoolieinNottingham wrote: “I really hope this is just a rumour.
“Thanks to Jeff Stelling (the Sky Sports presenter and Hartlepool fan) loads of people have a soft spot for Pools, whereas if this is true we’ll get no end of bad will.
“If we’ve got money to spend on wages now there will be other players who can do the job instead of him.”
But in the next message Monkeybutt replied: “I would take him in a heartbeat, what’s done is done, served his sentence, move on people!”
Evans was released in October after serving half of a five-year jail sentence following his conviction for raping a 19-year-old woman in Rhyl, north Wales.
The player has always maintained his innocence despite being found guilty.
Last month Evans’ former employers Sheffield United performed a U-turn after originally allowing him to train at the club’s facilities following a public backlash, while Tranmere and Oldham have also rejected the opportunity to sign the striker.