UPDATED: Ched Evans prepares for return to football

The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) has stepped in to prevent convicted rapist Ched Evans resuming his football career overseas.

The 26-year-old former Sheffield United striker has reached a deal with a League One club to be announced this week, according to a Sunday newspaper.

Evans has not played professionally since being sentenced to five years in prison for raping a woman in April 2012.

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The player denied the offence, saying the sex was consensual, but he was found guilty by a jury at Caernarfon Crown Court. He has always maintained his innocence and his appeal is currently being considered by the Criminal Cases Review Commission.

He was initially given permission by Sheffield United to return to train with the club at the request of players union the Professional Footballers Association.

But following a backlash from supporters, sponsors and patrons - with 160,000 people signing a petition opposing his return - the club retracted the offer.

Since then, Tranmere, Oldham and Hartlepool have all turned down the opportunity to sign him.

Today, sources close to the footballer have said the League One side which has signed him is unlikely to bow to any public pressure to withdraw the offer.

A supporter close to him said: “The club believes in his innocence.”

The news comes after the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) stepped in to prevent convicted rapist Ched Evans resuming his football career overseas.

The Maltese side Hibernians announced on Friday that they had offered the Wales international a deal for the remainder of the season.

But in a statement, the MoJ said that, as a convicted sex offender on licence, Evans was effectively barred from working abroad.

“We are determined to have one of the toughest regimes in the world for managing sex offenders, to stop them re-offending and to protect victims,” said an MoJ spokesman.

“Probation officers must give permission for sex offenders on licence to take up new jobs and this includes ensuring they hold regular face to face meetings - this effectively rules out working abroad.

“The offenders will also be subject to strict conditions such as exclusion zones, non-contact orders and having to attend sex offender treatment programmes.”

The offer by Hibernians - who currently lead Malta’s domestic league by 15 points - had appeared to open up the prospect of a way back into the game.

But even on the Mediterranean island the move was controversial, with prime minister Joseph Muscat warning that it could damage the country’s reputation.

A tweet on the verified Twitter account of his office stated: “Footballers are role models. Hibs’ decision will define them and to an extent Malta. I hope (management) understand this clearly before final decision.”

In contrast, Maltese justice minister Owen Bonnici said that he believed Evans should be given the opportunity to resurrect his career.

“Ched Evans should be given a second chance. If we believe in rehabilitation of ex-prisoners we should practise what we preach,” he said.