Why Ched Evans’ victim deserves an apology too

This article first appeared on Huffington Post. To view the original article, click here.


This week, the chief executive of the Professional Footballers’ Association, Gordon Taylor, compared the ‘plight’ of convicted rapist Ched Evans with that of the families of Hillsborough victims. “He wouldn’t be the first person or persons to be found guilty and maintain their innocence and then been proven right,” he told the BBC.

Naturally, his crass choice of words provoked fury across the Twittersphere and calls for Taylor to quit, or at least to apologise to Hillsborough victim families – which he did.

Taylor clarified his comments, swiftly stating: “The point I was making was not to embarrass or upset anybody at all among the Liverpool supporters. I’m very much an admirer of them and they know that.”

Well, I hate to break it to you, Gordon, but you have another apology to make: the one to the victim of the rape for which Ched Evans was found guilty by jury in 2012.

Mr Taylor, by making statements about Ched being ‘proven right’, makes clear his underlying assumption that Ched Evans is in fact free of any wrongdoing – the implication being that the UK justice system has let the footballer down and incarcerated an innocent man.

He wouldn’t be the only one doing this, either. In this week’s Spectator, Rod Liddle describes an “utterly ludicrous and petty campaign against Ched Evans”, implying that the petitions against Evans hold no weight and somewhat bizarrely claiming that Evans’ return to professional football will not put him in a position of ‘influence’ anyway. (Rod, I have two words for you: MIKE TYSON.)

I could list other (male) pundits and experts from the football community who have, deliberately or inadvertently, revealed their underlying beliefs that ‘poor’ Ched Evans has been run through the mill unnecessarily and that he is more the victim in a terrible witch hunt than a rapist.

Just to be clear, Ched Evans is not a victim. His rape victim is the victim. That is, the woman who was raped in a hotel room, then identified and abused by Twitter trolls, then had to change her name and move house five times in under three years and this year had to spend Christmas away from her family and friends as it was “too risky for her to visit”.

We put our faith in the UK justice system and that system found Ched Evans guilty of a crime. Repeatedly denying the charges does not make the perpetrator innocent, no matter how many high-profile footballing pundits imply that it does.

Gordon Taylor has apologised to Liverpool families who suffered a miscarriage of justice; I would like to see him apologise to the victim of a crime that he appears to have conveniently erased from his version of history: the rape of a woman by Ched Evans. She deserves an apology too.


Polly Courtney is a writer, commentator and amateur footballer. She is passionate about equality in all its forms.

Download your free copy of POLES APART!

To celebrate 10 years of Polish migration within the EU (and frankly, to stick two fingers up at Nigel Farage), Polly Courtney is giving away copies of her “revolutionary” page-turner, POLES APART. Grab your free ebook here! Spread the word!

PA + free ebook

“You’re lucky, being a girl. You can always get au pair work or a job in a Polish bakery. Apparently they’re springing up all over the country.”

Marta grits her teeth and nods. She is used to the assumption that she moved to England to change nappies and mop floors. It couldn’t be further from the truth. As a graduate of one of Poland’s top universities, Marta has ambitious plans for her new life.

But things don’t work out as the young migrant had planned. Her qualifications are unpronounceable, let alone recognisable, and her new friends seem more interested in spending their cash than helping Marta make hers.

As yet another door slams shut in her face, Marta finds herself alone in the English rain with a broken suitcase, no money and nowhere to go… and the phone number of a young woman she barely knows.

Based on a true story, Poles Apart is the moving and funny account of one young migrant’s search for recognition in a foreign land – a book that will appeal to fans of Rose Tremain, Marina Lewycka, Kathryn Stockett and Monica Ali.

“Courtney has an ability to breed empathy for an ethnic minority subjected to negative stereotypes.” — Metro

“This book is revolutionary for the British reader.” — Nowy Czas

“There is something very real and immediate about Marta’s new experience of London.” — Polski Express

Free download

Ghost Town: A brilliant and painful exploration of 1980s racial tension

“The trouble with self-publishing is: it’s too easy to do badly.”

This is a phrase I find myself saying far too often, on my travels as a self-publishing author. So, when I find an indie book that is well-written and well-edited, with a fantastic cover design and an author who has truly understood the value of building a platform for her books, I like to shout about it – and that is what I intend to do with the latest book I’ve read: GHOST TOWN by Catriona Troth.

GHOST TOWN is a unique and brilliant book. Set against a backdrop of the Coventry race riots in the 1980s – a period of British history I (shamefully) didn’t know much about – it was not just a compelling read for me, but also a learning experience.Ghost Town

Artfully alternating between the first person voice of Maia, a naïve and conflicted young white 20-something, and the third person viewpoint of Bahjan (Baz: ‘too paki to be white, too gora to be desi’), the story takes us straight to the heart of the racial tensions that erupted across Britain in the early 80s: not the much talked-about Brixton riots, but the persecution of Pakistani and other Asian communities in the midlands.

Then, as now, the mainstream media did little to cover the reality of events and it is clear that the author of GHOST TOWN did a lot of first-hand research to get to the bottom of what really happened. (There is a lot of this on her website.) Young people were killed on the streets in violent clashes. Letterbox fire bombs were commonplace. The police did little to protect Asian families from ugly violence that is seen at close range by Maia and Baz. I get the impression that the gradual ‘awakening’ we see in Maia – her views on race and what it means to belong – is an awakening that the author experienced during her time as a twenty-something in Coventry. The character is utterly believable, as is that of Baz, which must have taken a lot more research in terms of dialect, attitudes and background – again, very convincing.

The plot cleverly weaves the bigger social themes into the main characters’ stories without being clunky or too overt. Much of the plot centres around ‘the Skipper’, a homeless shelter in the heart of Coventry where the two main characters volunteer, and the intriguing range of frost-bitten down-and-outs who use its services. This choice of setting, like the theme of the book and the choice of voice, is unusual and different to that of most books I’ve read. Perhaps that’s why I enjoyed it so much.

Triskele Books: an author collective

Triskele Books: an author collective

It’s hard to liken GHOST TOWN to anything else out there, but there were certainly echoes of Alex Wheatle’s EAST OF ACRE LANE. I would recommend this book to anyone looking to step out of their comfort zone and explore a little-talked-about pocket of British history.

GHOST TOWN is published by Triskele Books and available in all the usual places e.g. Amazon.

The Horrific Shooting of a 15-Year-Old Girl Exposes the Reality of Girls, Guns and Gangs

On the afternoon of Saturday 22 March, a beautiful 15-year-old girl was shot dead in a house in Hackey. Three male teenagers were arrested nearby for the killing of Shereka Marsh. At almost exactly the same time, The Centre for Social Justice was finalising a press release for its long-awaited report, Tackling Exploitation of Girls by Gangs; a paper that exposes the “desperate lives” led by some girls in which “rape is used as a weapon and carrying drugs and guns is seen as normal”.

It is too early to say whether Shereka’s death was gang-related. We don’t yet know how or why the shot was fired; it might have been an accident. One thing, though, is clear: a 15-year-old girl was in the same room as a loaded gun.

We have become aware of – almost immune to – the impact of gangs, guns and drugs on teenage boys in our communities. We turn the pages blithely as newspaper headlines scream of gang-related stabbings in Brixton, confused shootings in Tottenham. Often, horrific acts of violence are not even covered in our broadsheets or on TV. They are not news; they’re just a way of life for many teenagers who carry knives for protection and who can get hold of a gun for £100. We watch films like Kidulthood, TV series like Top Boy andThe Wire – and we nod, cringing, as we accept the brutal reality for thousands of young men. But girls? In gangs? Until now, it has barely crossed our minds. We like to think it doesn’t happen.

Tragically, it happens. As research for my latest novel, I spent much of the past two years talking to young women on the fringes of our society, whose lives are governed by fear, insecurity and desperation to ‘belong’. Girls are at risk, just like their male counterparts, but we don’t tend to notice, as their pain is less conspicuous.


‘Girls in gangs’ is a misnomer. In the majority of cases, girls do not set up gangs of their own. Nor do girls play the same role in a gang as a teenage boy, who might be recruited by an ‘elder’ and promoted through the ranks as he gets more involved (carrying drugs and weapons, carrying out crimes on the elders’ behalf). As the think tank’s report reveals, the involvement of girls in gangs is less obvious. It takes on many guises.

Girls are used as bait in stand-offs with men from rival gangs. They are ‘owned’ by so-called boyfriends who ask them to carry knives, guns and drugs on their person or in pushchairs. Sexual abuse is commonplace; sex is just one of the commodities a girl is expected to provide. Rape of a man’s girl is used as a tool of retribution by rival gang members. ‘DSN’ is the rule. Don’t Say Nothing. It’s the rule that keeps men protected and young women at risk. If you’re raped or attacked, keep it to yourself or you suffer the consequences. Girls are used, exploited, rejected – and occasionally, caught in the crossfire.

So, now we’re aware. It’s an important first step. If we act on this awareness, then perhaps Shereka’s loss of life will not be entirely in vain.

But what form should this action take? In its report, the Centre for Social Justice urges Government to “map the problem” to allow better intervention work. It wants to see youth workers placed in major trauma units at hospitals in gang-affected areas to find members. It calls for police to team up with voluntary organisations to help the girlfriends of gang members who are arrested or imprisoned to exit gang life.

These are solutions in part, but they only tackle the symptoms of this epidemic; not the causes. Implemented on their own, these initiatives will fail, just as ‘amnesty boxes’ for knives have failed in the past because they don’t tackle the reason young people carry knives in the first place.

Put yourself in the shoes of a 16-year-old girl who has fallen into a vicious cycle of low self-esteem and reliance on her boyfriend or gang for support and validation. When a youth worker approaches you in the hospital as a close so-called friend fights for his life in A&E, will you be inclined to see their point of view and walk away from the man you think you love? When a social worker tries to convince you that there is an alternative to the only lifestyle you know, while your man is doing time in the ‘pen’, will you suddenly decide to turn your life around?


We need to tackle the root causes. We need to address the complex set of issues that cause girls to get involved in this life in the first place: low self-esteem, educational failure, instability, abuse and neglect, family breakdown, the lack of perceived opportunities elsewhere versus the apparent material and emotional reward of the gang lifestyle… the need to be part of an alternative ‘family’. This is not an exhaustive list. There is a different answer for every girl. As Patrick Regan, chief executive of urban youth charity XLP, says: “The biggest issue with girls in gangs is that we simply don’t know the full extent of the problem.” We don’t know how many girls are involved and we don’t fully understand their reasons. But we need to try. We need to do more to help girls at risk – before they get involved.

The good news is that much of this work is already underway, thanks to many excellent charities that deliver effective and proactive initiatives despite hefty cuts to their budgets.Beleve UK, for example, runs schemes that help young women choose work over unemployment, not just via training and experience but by boosting girls’ confidence and providing much-needed opportunities to ‘unburden’ after difficult pasts. One Big Community is a London-wide, youth-led coalition that strives to eradicate violence in our communities from the grass-roots up. XLP runs projects across the city in various forms including mentoring, training and drop-in events.

This week’s report should provide a springboard for action – but the action doesn’t stop at these recommendations. Government needs to take this issue seriously and invest in our young people’s futures, via charities that understand the people involved.

We need to make guns redundant and we need to see an end to the tragic deaths of teenage girls – as well as boys.
This article originally appeared on Huffington Post. Polly Courtney is author of Feral Youth, the story of the London Riots through the eyes of a 15-year-old girl. She will be speaking at the Wall of Silence debate at City Hall on 16th April as part of the One Big Community initiative. She is also an ambassador for Beleve UK.

When Grime meets Classical: the soundtrack that inspired Feral Youth

This post is taken from Roz Morris’ The Undercover Soundtrack:

Once a week I host a writer who uses music as part of their creative environment – perhaps to connect with a character, populate a mysterious place, or hold  a moment still to explore its depths. This week’s post is by Polly Courtney @PollyCourtney

Soundtrack by DebussyDJ DiceWagner

It might seem odd that a book called Feral Youth was inspired by classical music. But despite its title, Feral Youth is not just about a disenfranchised young person living on the fringes of society. More, it is about the relationship between that young person – Alesha, 15, alcoholic mother, unknown father – and Miss Merfield: a middle-class piano teacher with an alternative outlook on life and a love of tea and Chopin. It’s about two cultures colliding and the mark that each leaves on the other.

001_Hannah_Palmer bAs you might have guessed, my background is more akin to that of Miss Merfield’s than to Alesha’s. I grew up on classical music, playing piano and violin and performing in shows and concerts all through my teenage years. I’m still part of the semi-professional string quartet that plays at venues up and down the UK. But it was my piano lessons in the early years that lodged in my mind and planted the seed for Feral Youth.

Back to that rickety piano stool

Debussy’s Doctor Gradus ad Parnassum was one of the final pieces I learned to play. My piano teacher was an elderly lady, much older than the youthful Miss Merfield but with a strong, forceful manner and a kindly streak. When I hear Debussy, I think of Mrs Luton-Brain (yes, that was her name – ‘Luton where they make the hats, brains for putting under them!’) and I imagine myself back on that old, rickety double stool, filled with a mixture of fear and intrigue as my fingers tripped up and down the keys. Although Alesha’s piano lessons with Miss Merfield were short-lived and took place long before the summer in which Feral Youth is set, they were instrumental in developing the relationship between the characters and I used Debussy to send me back to that place and remind myself of what it felt like, sitting next to Mrs Luton-Brain in that stuffy room.

Key to angst

I also used music to unlock emotions as I wrote. Alesha is an angry character, full of angst at the way she is persecuted by those in power, ignored by those who should care and cheated by those she thought she could trust. I began by listening to grime. Grime is a relatively new genre that grew out of the east London garage/hip-hop scene. Two years ago, I hadn’t even heard of it but as I got deeper and deeper into my research, I heard it oozing from car stereos on the estates, rattling youth club windows and whirring from tinny speakers on phones. Imagine a beat that is so low, slow and dirty you can feel your teeth vibrating in your skull. The wax in your ears starts to shift and it almost hurts to listen, but somehow you keep listening because the juddering, creaking beat draws you in. Here’s a DJ Dice sub-low mix that I used to get myself back to where some of the scenes are set.

20 FERAL YOUTH Front cover AmazonIn the early stages of writing, I was sketching the outline for Feral Youth on a bunch of Post-it notes and something didn’t feel right. There wasn’t enough of a bond between my two main characters. I realised that something had to have happened between Alesha and Miss Merfield in order for them to behave in the way I envisaged during the book. I was listening to the radio one morning when Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries came on. I turned it up loud. This is one piece that’s guaranteed to set off a swirling cocktail of emotions in anyone. I could feel it surging through me, washing away my frustrations and replacing them with something jubilant and powerful. It was this ‘rinsing’ effect that gave me what turned out to be an important insight into the relationship between Alesha and Miss Merfield. There had to have been a shared experience that bonded them… and I’d just worked out what it was.

We stayed on the floor for the rest of that lesson, like a couple of crazies, staring up at the ceiling as the music crashed and blasted around us. I never told Miss Merfield this, but while we was lying there it felt like some of my anger was leaking out. It wasn’t like proper crying. It was just hotness and tears and this weird lightness coming over me – in a good way. It’s hard to explain. Anyway, that’s why it don’t feel right to be thieving off Miss Merfield right now.

Writing, memories and music

I may have committed a literary cardinal sin by making amovie-style trailer for Feral Youth in which I use some of this music – including the Wagner – to try and transport readers to the place I was in when I wrote it. Perhaps that’s an impossible ambition; I suspect that the links between writing, memories and music can never be transplanted from one person to another. All I know is that for me, music was the vehicle that took me back (and forward, and sideways) and that without it, I’m not sure Miss Merfield and Alesha might have ever met.

Polly Courtney is the author of six novels and a regular commentator on TV and radio. She made her name with debut novel Golden Handcuffs, a semi-autobiographical account of life in the Square Mile. In late 2011, on the publication of her fifth novel, Courtney walked out on her publisher, HarperCollins, frustrated by the ‘chick lit’ titles and covers assigned to her books. She went on to self-publish Feral Youth, which delves into the frustrations that led to the summer riots. Here website is here, and you can follow her on Twitter as @PollyCourtney

Rising from the ashes of the riots: a play worth seeing

It’s been two years now since riots swept the nation, destroying people’s homes, storefronts and livelihoods. Some shops still look like burnt-out shells. Many businesses are only just receiving compensation and others still are locked in battle with their insurers: a battle that only the lawyers can win. Two years is a long time to wait to start rebuilding your life.

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Two years is also, it would seem, the approximate length of time it takes for something creative and meaningful to emerge from the rubble.

While the mainstream press has busied itself seeking out tales of woe about the ‘youth of today’, focusing on their criminal behaviour, their apathy, their sinking grades, their inflated grades… a number of young people have been quietly, diligently working on some rather remarkable creations inspired by the events of August 2011. Last week I was fortunate enough to sample one of them.

Advice for the Young at Heart is a play for young people, about young people, performed by young people – and it’s brilliant. Written by award-winning playwright Roy Williams OBE and produced by charitable professional theatre company, Theatre Centre, it is honestly one of the best pieces of theatre I’ve seen in a long while.

The backdrop of the play is a scene of looting and ‘madness’ in the London riots of 2011, but it’s also set in the Notting Hill race riots of 1958, exploring the parallels and differences through the eyes of two generations of young people.


This play is about more than just riots. Its main character, Candice, played by the mesmerising Alix Ross, is a feisty, mouthy teenager of today whom I recognised immediately from the cast of characters I used in Feral Youth. She’s raw and real and torn between two paths in life and – much like Alesha – in denial about the possibility of ‘coming clean’ and doing something that breaks the unwritten code of the street.

Flipping between 2011 and 1958 through conversations with her dead grandfather, Candice begins to realise that history is in danger of repeating itself and for the first time in her life, she begins to understand what her grandparents went through for the family and for future generations. Masterfully exploring themes of peer pressure, gang violence, racism and social division, Advice for the Young at Heart is filled with poignancy – as well as some funny moments. I wish I’d had plays of this calibre touring my school when I was 15.

Advice for the Young at Heart is touring the UK now. For more information or to book tickets, follow the link. Theatre Centre is on Twitter at @TCLive with the #AdvicePlay hashtag. Go and see it! Now!

A little addendum to this: I was thrilled to hear that Alix Ross, the actress who plays Candice, had read Feral Youth. She had this to say about it:

“I could barely put it down. (It took me just 3 days to read it.) I was left in tears at 6am on Sunday morning (when I finished the book).

The first thing that sprang to mind when I started reading it was how great the dialect was – including the Jamaican. For a story about young people to be written in language they understand makes me feel like it is written not only for them but to educate those of us who don’t understand or appreciate how these young people feel and communicate.

What kept occurring for me when I read it is how it did not patronise but left a subtle message that anything is possible as long as you believe in yourself. Though the road is not easy you can do it.

Though my personal background is by no means close to Alesha’s, I still see and have spoken to “Aleshas” all over south who are dealing with the pull between better and what they know. The bottom line is that young people are angry, they’re not dumb but angry and need more support than they are getting: not just “pop-up youth centres”. Here is a perfect novel explaining why. One of my favourite parts is regarding why some young people want to have babies early – not for housing but to have a person love them back. There is so much more that I love about the novel but it would make this email an essay if I attempted to put everything down.

I can definitely see why you saw connections between Candice and Alesha. I hope that you are thinking of doing more with this wonderful story.

Alix. Aka Candice

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