Footballer Ched Evans has been found not guilty of raping a young woman in 2011, following a retrial.
Evans spent two and a half years in prison for rape but his original conviction was quashed by the appeal court following a high-profile and well-funded campaign by family and friends that included the offer of a £50,000 reward for information leading to his acquittal.
The jury at Cardiff crown court took two hours to acquit Evans. He kept his head down as the male jury foreman returned the unanimous verdict.
Applause could be heard from the public gallery following the acquittal. Mrs Justice Nicola Davies told him: “Mr Evans, you are discharged and you can leave the dock.”
Evans then rushed from the dock into the arms of his girlfriend, Natasha Massey. Both sobbed as the judge thanked the jury and the barristers. She said: “This case has been conducted out in the public gaze.”
In a statement read outside the court by his solicitor, Shaun Draycott, Evans said he was “overwhelmed with relief” following the verdict. He thanked his friends and family, “most notably my fiancee, Natasha, who chose, perhaps incredibly, to support me in my darkest hour”.
Evans stood by his lawyer shaking as the statement concluded: “Whilst my innocence has now been established, I wish to make it clear that I wholeheartedly apologise to anyone who might have been affected by the events of the night in question.”
A spokesman for Evans said he would now return to football – though he is currently nursing an injury.