Disgraced former Sheffield United player Ched Evans is believed to have walked free from prison just before 5am today.
A silver Mercedes with blacked out windows pulled up outside Wymott Prison, near Preston, and seconds later a figure, believed to be Evans, got into the back.
The Ministry of Justice declined to confirm his release.
Evans was jailed for five years for rape in 2012 and told he would be released mid-way through his sentence.
He signed for Sheffield United in a £3 million deal in 2009 and there are mixed views on whether he should be allowed to play professional football again.
The Welsh international striker was jailed in April 2012 for raping the woman in a hotel room in Rhyl, North Wales.
The 25-year-old striker’s release will pile more pressure on his former club, Sheffield United, to say whether he will be allowed to play for them again.
Many Blades fans have called for him to be rehabilitated, but almost 150,000 people have signed an online petition urging the Bramall Lane club not to welcome him back.
The footballer denied the offence but was found guilty by a jury at Caernarfon Crown Court.
He admitted having sex with her, but the woman told the jury she had no memory of the incident.
The prosecution said the woman, who cannot be named for legal reasons, was too drunk to consent to sexual intercourse.
Port Vale defender Clayton McDonald also admitted having sex with the victim but was found not guilty of the same charge.
An appeal against Evans’s conviction was rejected by three judges at the Court of Appeal in 2012.
His girlfriend, Natasha Massey, has led a campaign to have the conviction overturned.
Evans’s case is due to be looked at by the Criminal Case Review Commission in the coming weeks.
Miss Massey has reiterated her support for her partner telling ITV’s This Morning that she put her feelings about his cheating to one side to support him through his trial and prison and she said she has visited him every week in prison.
Miss Massey said Evans hopes to play professional football again.
Sheffield United have refused to say whether they will allow Evans to play again.
Manager Nigel Clough has said: “We have had one or two discussions, we are awaiting a decision and the owners will make that in good time.”
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said the owners of Sheffield United should “think really long and hard” before deciding whether to allow Evans back.
Mr Clegg said footballers were role models to youngsters and that should “weigh heavily” on the club’s owners.
Sheffield Hallam MP Mr Clegg said: “I don’t think it’s right for politicians to tell football clubs what they will do and who they employ. All I’m saying is I think football players these days, they get paid a lot of money, they are public figures and you can’t ignore that.”
Richard Caborn, the former sports minister and Sheffield United fan, said Evans should be allowed back only if he shows remorse and says sorry.
Labour sports spokesman Clive Efford said it was “not appropriate” for Evans to return to professional football after his release.
Mr Efford told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I think there are many areas of employment where, when you’ve committed a crime like that, you are not allowed to be employed in that form of employment, and I think football is one of them, because you are a role model within a community.
“I know this is sad for Ched Evans, who’s been to prison and paid a price, but I think that in these circumstances it’s not appropriate to have someone with that record in a profession where you are idolised by young people.”
Evans scored 48 goals in 113 games for the Blades before his imprisonment, including 35 in 42 games during the 2011/12 campaign which was cut short for him due to his trial and conviction.
He has been capped 13 times for Wales.