Former Premier League footballer Ched Evans has been found not guilty of rape following a retrial, ending a five-year fight to clear his name.
Evans, 27, a Wales international who has played for Manchester City and Sheffield United, wept and hugged his fiancee after the verdict was given at Cardiff Crown Court on Friday.
He admitted to having sex with a teenager in a Premier Inn near Rhyl, North Wales, in May 2011 but always insisted it was consensual.
He was convicted of rape in April 2012 and released from prison after serving half of his five-year sentence but there was a public outcry when he attempted to return to professional football.
Evans joined League One side Chesterfield after the Court of Appeal quashed his conviction and ordered a retrial earlier this year.
A jury of seven women and five men found him not guilty following three hours of deliberations after the eight-day trial.
Solicitor Shaun Draycott read a statement from Evans outside the court, saying: “In the early hours of 30th May 2011 an incident occurred in North Wales that was to change my life and the lives of others forever.
“I would like to thank my legal team, Judy Khan QC and David Emanuel of Garden Court Chambers London and Shaun Draycott of Draycott Browne Solicitors for their tireless efforts upon my behalf.
“Thanks go, too, to my friends and family; most notably my fiancee Natasha who chose, perhaps incredibly, to support me in my darkest hour.
“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.”
In a statement on Chesterfield’s official website the club’s chief executive Chris Turner said: “We are naturally delighted with the outcome, especially for Ched, his family and friends. We can now all move forward and focus on football.”