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The Plumber and the Footballer


 Here’s a hypothetical case, in both facts and the predicted public response to them.

Let’s suppose that a convicted rapist is released from prison.  We’ll assume for argument’s sake that he’s a plumber from Essex.  He has only served half his original sentence, but that’s a routine parole concession in any case in which the prisoner is not seen as presenting a serious threat to society.  Our plumber, by the way, maintains his innocence, and has an appeal against his conviction pending with the Criminal Cases Review Commission.  Meanwhile, he has been unable to find employment because of the unforgiving view many take of the heinous nature of his crime.  On top of that, he has failed to show remorse.

So, here’s the question: should he be allowed to find a job?

“Yes, of course he should,” is how I’m guessing most people would respond.  There are no two ways about it, I hear them saying.  He has paid his debt to society, which now, having imposed the punishment prescribed by law, ought to observe that society’s decent custom of giving every man a second chance.  He’s entitled to earn a living, and anyway, we don’t want him going on welfare, do we? 

By now you can probably guess where this is going.

The above facts are hypothetical, but in only one respect: the man in question is real but he’s not an anonymous plumber, he’s a footballer.  Does that change the public’s response?  Should it?

Yes, seems to be the answer of many.

Ched Evans, a Welsh international player, is out of prison and seeks to earn a living playing football.  For a few days he trained with his former club, Sheffield United, but such was the public outcry – in which Jessica Ennis, a popular former gold medal-winning athlete played a prominent role – the club backed down.  He then entered talks with Hartlepool United (the bottom team in the lowest football division), which likewise took fright under pressure.  After that, he was approached by Oldham Athletic, which could point to a precedent in hiring ex-cons, having previously signed up one Lee Hughes, who had served time for dangerous driving, in an incident in which someone was killed.  Oldham in its turn was made to see the ‘error’ of its ways, reversing itself when the club’s main sponsors threatened to skedaddle.

Each time his employment seemed imminent, a petition was drawn up opposing it.  One, organised by a woman operating under the horribly apt pseudonym Jean Hatchet, secured 30,000 signatures.  That doesn’t sound like a big number in a society wedded to the instant response of social media, but it was enough to do for Mr. Evans.  I’d venture to guess that three signatures might have been enough.

I find all this troubling, and puzzling, on a number of levels. 

Let’s start with the perceived difference between Mr. X, the plumber, and Mr. Evans, the footballer.  Logically, not to mention legally, the nature of a man’s legitimate trade should not be relevant to his prospects for finding a job, any more than the crime for which he was convicted.  I venture to estimate that there are hundreds of thousands of ex-cons now working in Britain, many of their crimes every bit as violent, life-destroying and self-degrading as rape.  Should we campaign for all of them – murderers, burglars, knife-wielding muggers, drug-dealers and habitual wife-beaters – to be fired from their jobs and prevented from ever working again?

Ah, yes, I hear you say, but the footballer is a public figure who ought to be held up as a role model for our kids.  But I’d submit that the moral obligation argument tends to founder with a quick perusal of the varied misdemeanours, on-field and off, of some of the country’s leading players, some of whose antics may have been widely decried but which in most cases resulted in no more than token fines or brief suspensions.  Where are the cries for justice for their victims?

Then there is the question of Evans’s legal culpability.  Yes, he was found guilty, and he has duly served his time behind bars, but now there is an appeal in process, one on which the verdict has yet to be pronounced.  And from what I’ve read of the sordid details, the conviction arguably sounds at best shaky.  Legally, if not morally, Evans may yet prevail.  We may, each and every one of us, hope that he doesn’t, but that is not a matter for jurisprudence.    

As for his lack of remorse, he can hardly be expected to apologise for a crime he insists he did not commit, especially as doing so would wreck his appeal.  Clearly, he is acting on the advice of counsel.

“Well, he would claim his innocence, wouldn’t he,” I’ve heard it said, echoing the immortal words of the late Mandy Rice-Davies.  Yes, he would.  But that doesn’t automatically confer guilt.

I dare say that, without having met the man, Evans is not the kind of man one would wish one’s daughter to bring home for tea.  He may even be, as his critics – who, like me, have never met him – that he is a thoroughly nasty piece of work.  But then, most convicted criminals are.  I’d even go so far as to say that I would think twice about hiring him.  But if someone else doesn’t, then that is a legitimate decision.

The shrieks of moral outrage, however well-intended as a ‘message’ of feminist solidarity, or whatever they are, strike me as stridently hypocritical as they are absurdly illogical. 

What about the victim? I hear you cry.  Well, all I can say is that I feel as sorry for her as it is possible to be.  But the law, and individual rights, count for more here, much more than the verdict of the well-meaning herd. 

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