Wales international Ched Evans was “overwhelmed with relief” after being acquitted of rape following a retrial.
The Chesterfield striker, 27, was originally convicted of raping a 19-year-old woman in a Premier Inn near Rhyl, North Wales, in May 2011.
He served half of a five-year prison sentence before being released but there was a public outcry when he attempted to return to professional football.
Evans joined League One club 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 Evans not guilty following three hours of deliberations after the eight-day trial at Cardiff Crown Court.
Evans wept and hugged his fiancee Natasha Massey, who has stood by him throughout his ordeal, as he left the dock in courtroom five.
The couple stood together with supporters as Evans’s solicitor Shaun Draycott read a statement outside court.
“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,” the statement said.
“That incident did not involve the commission of a criminal offence and today I am overwhelmed with relief that the jury agreed.
“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.”
Superintendent Jo Williams, of North Wales Police, said: “We acknowledge the decision of the jury.”
She added that they were aware that the complainant had been named on social media and that it is a criminal offence under Section Five of the Sexual Offences Amendments Act to do so.
“An investigation is ongoing into the naming. People need to be aware that they could find themselves being arrested and prosecuted. This was done previously, people were prosecuted and heavily fined.”