Fresh doubt over Higgins cheat claims as mystery lingers over entrapment ‘firm’

By Nick Harris

9 May 2010

As John Higgins faces new allegations today of betting-related misconduct, sportingintelligence can reveal that a phone call at the centre of the fresh claims was assessed at the time by the relevant gambling authorities and deemed “clean” and not worthy of further investigation or action.

The front page of today’s News of the World claimed a ‘Shocking New Snooker Sensation’ and carried the headline ‘Higgins bet on himself to LOSE’.

The accompanying story, rather confusingly, explains in some detail how Higgins, in fact, had actually NOT placed a bet on the match in question, the 2009 World Championship final against Shaun Murphy.

The newspaper alleges that Higgins tried to place a bet on Murphy during a break in the match at a point when Higgins was ahead. The NotW does not specify how much the attempted bet was for, or when Higgins allegedly attempted to place it, or whether Higgins wanted to bet on Murphy winning a frame, a session or the match.

The paper does not allege a specific amount or specific bet because its source cannot remember.

The Ladbrokes call centre worker who allegedly had the conversation in question with Higgins has, the paper says, “sworn a legal affidavit” saying that Higgins called and asked to place a bet. It is not known if the NotW paid the source for her story.

“I can’t remember exactly how much he wanted to bet but the figure £1,000 sticks in my mind,” this source told the NotW, adding that she asked Higgins why he would want to bet on Murphy. “I just want to cover myself,” the source alleges that Higgins told her.

The source says Higgins was doing so well in the match at the time of the call that “a bomb would have had to come through the roof for him to lose.”

If this quote reflects Higgins’ domination at the time, it would be logical to assume the call took place on Monday 4 May after the third session (of four) of the two-day final. The score after the first session was 4-4, after the second session 11-5 (both those on Sunday), and after third session, 16-8.

The first player to 18 frames wins the final. Higgins won the match 18-9, and picked up £250,000 for winning. He would have banked £125,000 runners-up prize money if he had lost.

It should be stressed: Higgins placed no bet. But for readers who don’t understand betting, if Higgins had indeed placed a £1,000 bet, while 16-8 up, on Murphy to win the match (at 25-1 or thereabouts at that time), Higgins would be guaranteed £250,000 from winning the match, and still only £150,000 from losing. In other words, even if he had placed that bet, there was still a clear incentive for himself to win.

The most pertinent fact is he did not place the bet. As even the NotW’s source alleges, she told Higgins that as a player he couldn’t bet, he allegedly said he didn’t realise that, and the call ended.

The NotW source says “the call would have been recorded and the time and date will have been logged”. Sportingintelligence understands the call would definitively have been logged, but not necessarily recorded in the audio sense.

Actual bets are recorded in this way. Other conversation is not necessarily recorded. There was no bet, so no certainly of a recording, and the existence or not of a recording is clouded further, according to a source, by the fact that the call centre in question has now closed.

It therefore may not be possible to actually check via tape what was actually said, or verify whether Higgins did indeed ask to place the (unspecified) bet, or simply asked for a price, or indeed made the call himself at all. If the tape does exist, investigators will listen to it.

Significantly, sportingintelligence has learned that any encounter of the type alleged – where Higgins as snooker player was trying to place a bet on his own match, which is forbidden – would have been reported and investigated.

A Ladbrokes spokesman told us today: “We’re aware of what our reporting obligations are to the authorities.”

Those obligations, under the Gambling Act 2005, are that bookmakers must make a report to the Gambling Commission if they have evidence of corruption, or suspicions of corruption or of infringements of sport-specific betting rules. In some cases a bookmaker would also separately inform an individual governing body of a suspicious case.

Whatever did or didn’t happen that day with Higgins, sportingintelligence understands there was no concern from the betting authorities, either at Ladbrokes or the Gambling Commission. It is not known if snooker’s governing body, the WPBSA, was notified about the call.

It is not clear whether Higgins has breached any part of snooker’s code of conduct relating to betting, which explicitly outlaws players betting on their own matches, because he did not actually place a bet. Even as reported by the NotW, he inquired about a bet, was told he wasn’t allowed to bet, and didn’t bet. WBPSA officials are checking the precise wording of the rules to see if attempted betting is explicitly outlawed.

Elsewhere in today’s NotW, Higgins’ manager, Pat Mooney, is featured making claims about how he could guarantee certain score lines in matches and names players he says he could involve in these theoretical matches that would have been staged by NotW “businessmen” in cahoots with a NotW “fictitious betting syndicate”. Mooney is apparently under the influence of alcohol as he talks. The NotW says there is no suggestion that what Mooney alleges is true.

Sportingintelligence has already reported on the way in which the NotW executed its sting on Mooney and Higgins.

A website for a fake company, Alfa Equity, was key to an elaborate deception. It carried lies presented as fact about some real-life respectable companies that fictitious Alfa apparently dealt with. This information was used to establish Alfa’s credentials.

Sportingintelligence knows some of those companies were unhappy with their unwitting involvement in the sting. That fake website has been taken down in the past few days, although extracts screen-saved by sportingintelligence can be seen here.

For some reason, in footage released on the NotW’s website today of Mooney, covertly filmed by the NotW, one sub-title refers to Alpha Equity (with a “ph” not an “f”). This diverts from the fact that a website for a fake company called Alfa Equity was key to the sting.

The WPBSA continues to investigate Higgins and Mooney. Mooney resigned last week from the WPBSA board. Higgins is likely to receive a long ban from the game unless he can explain how he and Mooney came to be filmed in Ukraine apparently agreeing to accept money for losing frames at future unspecified events.

Higgins says he is innocent and was saying whatever necessary to get out of the meeting. The NotW has said it will co-operate fully with the WPBSA investigation but today’s paper suggests it has yet to hand over key footage, let alone every tape, transcript and other piece of evidence that shows how it worked its sting and got its results.

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21 Responses to “Fresh doubt over Higgins cheat claims as mystery lingers over entrapment ‘firm’”

  1. Dean Williams says:

    Nick, there is a chain of thought that Higgins was NOT the initial target of the sting, that dubious honour going to Mooney, Higgins just got caught up in it.

    The initial expense of setting up the sting would have come to nothing if Mooney had said what 99% of people would say and that is John would not be rubber stamping this, you will never discuss it with him, this goes through me only. In their wildest dreams they could not have thought they would have actually got Higgins on camera as they have. Any thoughts or way of finding out?

  2. admin says:

    Dean: Thanks for the comment.
    I think that we can say with certainty that Mooney was indeed the initial target of the sting: HE was approached by the NotW sting team initially, NOT Higgins. (All the detail is in the sting backgrounder piece linked in this piece).
    I don’t know WHY Mooney was targeted. The NotW say because a “sport insider” told them they had suspicions over Mooney and Higgins. But the NotW don’t say who the insider was, or what evidence this insider produced: presumably none whatsoever because the NotW themselves have presented, so far, NO EVIDENCE WHATSOEVER that John Higgins has actually fixed anything at all.
    Can we speculate why Mooney was targeted? Maybe someone genuinely believed he is or was corrupt. Maybe a business rival had a grudge. Maybe someone had a personal issue with him. I simply don’t know.
    But I do know Mooney was targeted; the News of the World essentially confirms this itself several times across the coverage by writing about several meetings with Mooney (not Higgins) over a period of time.
    In last week’s NotW coverage, the case against Higgins rests – as far as I can tell from anything printed or shown on video – ENTIRELY on what Mooney had told reporters prior to that 10-minute meeting, and then the meeting itself of course, where the damning – edited – video was filmed.
    The NotW coverage itself says the deal had been agreed with Mooney; and now it was just up to Higgins to rubber-stamp it. My reading of that is not even the NoTW is claiming Higgins had knowledge of what Mooney had allegedly promised before that meeting.
    I don’t know if Mooney is innocent or guilty (of actually fixing anything, as opposed to talking about fixing, and then in “exhibitions” according to last week’s NotW) but there is a strong evidential base for thinking he was at least stupid and mouthy and saying what people wanted to hear; this within the context of an elaborate entrapment. The NotW will argue entrapment in the public interest; that’s their right to argue that and as and when legal proceedings start, that will be debated.
    Entrapment in the public interest is fine in my view if it’s really in the public interest; catching paedophiles and gang-masters etc. And catching match-fixers – when you can prove they’ve fixed matches. The NotW haven’t proved that.
    I don’t know if Higgins is innocent or guilty. He has uncomfortable questions to answer, and the biggest single one of those, in my view, is why didn’t he tell the WPBSA or other authority?
    On the flip side, there is no evidence he has ever fixed a frame, let alone a match. Today’s stuff is odd again; a headline that says a bet was placed – and a story about how no bet was placed.
    I’m not in a position to gain access to the full facts.
    I hope the WPBSA investigation team is. I hope the former Met copper gets access to every minute of tape, audio and video, and is fully and honestly briefed on the NoTW’s sting from their end.
    Corruption in sport needs to be rooted out. Guilty parties need to be identified and punished.
    Hope this answers your Q.
    NH

  3. Pav Gill says:

    Nick, another excellent, interesting and informative article. I think Sam made you aware of the Facebook site that is up and running with growing levels of support. I have made the exact same points regarding, Ladbrokes commitment to report these things to the Gambling Commision as soon as it happens and the points you have made around the bets.

    I think todays futher article from the NOTW shows how desperate they are now getting in showing JH was and is in the wrong. I am sure they are realising that what they are doing themselves is wrong and no surprised their “fake website” has quickly disappeared.

    Keep up the good work!

  4. Elena says:

    Nick! Thanks for another excellent analytical article! I’m not sure whether we will learn someday the whole truth about this case, but it is clear that the bulk of the charges against John is a gossip and dirty insinuations. In my opinion, the only argument against Higgins is that he did not disclose in WABSA of extortion upon arrival from Ukraine.
    Yes, betting on his match banned. But all the players are doing it.
    From the outset it was clear that the focus is on Pat, his talk about the Dott and Selby and an indication of how he was slovenly. In addition, it is encouraging that the journalists stressed: “During discussion, John was not in the room.”
    I can only once again wonder why you had to break a man’s life, which is still nothing reprehensible was not observed.
    Corruption must be fought. But not such methods.
    I hope for the professionalism of Mr. Douglas.

  5. Elena says:

    I have a question for the author:
    Could it be the whole purpose of this operation was to destroy the project “World Series”?

  6. admin says:

    Elena: I have no idea.
    The NotW’s stated motivation was a tip-off about corruption. We have to take them at their word and let a full and thorough investigation unwind.
    If David Douglas concludes he has misgivings about how the NotW worked, or whether their published findings accurately represented what happened, then I’m sure he’ll say so.
    NH

  7. vik iyer says:

    hi nick

    You may well be correct in some of your points about the News of the World methods.

    But what context hypothetically saves Higgins from his “swallow 200k” comment. And if he was scared, he certainly does not look it.

    It does remind me alot of the grobelaar case, in that there is a lot of conjecture and nobody comes out looking great.

    For me, John Higgins will struggle to prove that he is totally innocent and did not bring the game into heavy disrepute.

    You would expect the sting to be elaborate and sadly there is a strong public interest here.

    Would love to believe Higgins is innocent, but if snooker whitewashes this, the sport could lose all credibility

  8. nylonic48 says:

    Its difficult is this one. Firstly , these people who make up these reports with their so called ‘evidence’ arent stupid people. These people could put together enough convincing information to make Higgins look guilty or make him look innocent. I personally don’t take much notice of any of it, especially what is in these columns, I mean for gods sake ‘allegedly said he didn’t realise that, and the call ended’. There isnt a human being walking this earth that wouldnt realise that a professional sportsmen couldnt place a bet on themselves. It doesnt take a lot of working out.The video footage is pretty hard to argue with,on the back of the obvious unanswered, confusing questions.

  9. roger says:

    To Elana – your comment “But all the players are doing it” is in my opinion not only false, but disgraceful!

  10. Elena says:

    2 roger
    Read Dave Hendon’s twitter and what Mikaela Tabbs writes in facebook.

  11. roger says:

    hi elana, with respect – it matters not what a journalist or referee “thinks” about the subject, it doesn’t mean it’s accurate!

  12. Tommy says:

    To vik Iyer:

    In regards to the ‘swallow’ comment, it could be that Higgins was told that he couldn’t be paid in the normal way.

    That is just one of many contexts, but humans tend to accept the first context they are given, and even feel the urge to defend that position even in the light of more feasible scenarios.

    We have a propensity to feel we have made correct judgements and hold on to them longer than it is reasonable to do so.

  13. Kevin says:

    I don’t think it’s important whether Higgins actually fixed a match previously, the problem we have here is that he was willing to do it, this is enough to show us he hasn’t enough integrity to be a sportsman in this game, it’s as simple as that.

    Regardless of how this has come to light we all know now that Higgins was capable of even contemplating a match fix.

    The NotW was just a means to an end IMO, someone obviously smelt a rat in Mooney, and we all know from the video that a large sum was previously ‘discussed’, but at the end of the day Higgins just should’ve said “No way”, but he didn’t, and that’s why he’s in this mess, that’s his fault and needs to accept that, it’s no use blaming the NotW for this.

  14. Elena says:

    Wouldn’t you like to see the unedited transcripts of the interviews and the uncut video before deciding that Higgins deserves a ban that will range from eight years to life?

  15. matthew says:

    On betting on matches, Clive Everton in yesterday’s guardian said it used to be widespread for players to but ‘saver’ or ‘insurance’ bets on their opponents

  16. Tommy says:

    The problem, Kevin, is in the assumption that he did what he did in the way the NOTW said he did it. Context is everything.

  17. roger says:

    Again with respect Matthew, C Everton’s comments are simply unfounded speculation! I am a current main tour pro snooker player of almost 20 years and can assure u i have never and never will have any “saver” or “insurance” bet on any of my own or any other players matches! The reason i am posting this is that it concerns me that people are now of the opinion that this carry on is rife in our sport which i can assure u it is not! Having been around the block in our sport more than most i think i know better than most of what goes on and what doesn’t! If any player partakes in this kind of thing then i hope they are severely dealt with by our governing body! I repeat that i have always played to win – i do play to win – and will always play to win – PERIOD. I hope this helps. Regards

  18. admin says:

    NB: I have amended my own comment (this one) to extend it. NH

    Roger: Matthew’s comment of yesterday referred (I assume) to this piece in the Guardian co-authored by two people, one of them Clive Everton:
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/sport/2010/may/09/john-higgins-snooker-champion
    I would assume the background on insurance betting was indeed written by Clive (given his decades in the game), or based on information provided by him, and the relevant paragraph was:
    “Although betting to lose on a match in which you are involved is now banned under snooker’s disciplinary code, so called ‘insurance betting’ was commonplace in snooker, and even encouraged by some in the sport, until recently.”
    As with everything in the case, I would always urge anyone to go and read all materials in context.

    I’m delighted you’re posting on this thread, Roger, and share your concerns that people will now think x, y and z is rife when there may not be hard evidence; just as I’d be concerned that x, y and z might be not be true of Higgins without hard evidence, fully presented, in context.

    Higgins may or may not be guilty of match fixing or frame fixing. NOTHING the NotW has printed has proved he has fixed any frame or match that has taken place. Judging from message boards, comments, even postings on this site, in the eyes of the majority of the public he is certainly already convicted as a greedy match-fixer. Is that justice?

    I have doubts the NoTW’s claims (implied and/or direct) that he is a match-fixer would hold up in a court; but that’s my personal viewed only based on the evidence I’ve seen.

    A court case would be interesting for any number of reasons, including all the tangential figures it might involve: stock-market listed firms furious at fraudulent use of their credentials for entrapment being the least of it. While the fake website has been taken down (see previous stories), the person/team who built it/used it left behind all kinds of evidence about its construction, location, servers, IP addresses involved, links to specific journalists, email account usage. Even if the cache is subsequently destroyed, fortunately for transparency’s sake I have saved a lot of that information. A tiny bit of it I have already posted (four scans).

    Also Roger, I genuinely appreciate you coming into this debate as a tour player of 20 years. Your experience and insight could help throw more light on this whole subject. Please feel free to email me directly.
    Nick Harris

  19. roger says:

    Hi Nick, as i was intimating it is statements like “insurance betting was commonplace” and “even encouraged by some in the sport” that i find baffling tbh! IMO these kind of statements just don’t ring true with myself considering i have never had anyone suggest to me that it was commonplace or that it would be a good idea to do it! Again, imo if these things have gone on i find it difficult to believe that Cive (who i respect greatly as a journalist and broadcaster) would have been privy to enough information to call it “commonplace” when i have heard nothing of the sort! Also, may i add that i have played and therefor been at every tournament over 2 decades whereas Clive while being editor of Snooker Scene has in the main only attended BBC events due obviously to commentary etc. I have to wonder where people get their information from! I wouldn’t think it would be from the players (in fact i’m pretty sure it’s not) Regards

  20. admin says:

    Roger,

    As a player, what did you think about the Higgins case?
    And what do you think about the NotW coverage?
    And do you understand why some people feel disquiet about some aspects of it (the coverage), or is it all fair game?
    And how widespread, if at all, do you think betting-related corruption within snooker is?

    Obviously not you’re obliged to answer of these! Or if you do want to answer but not in public, you can address them to me personally and in confidence at nick@sportingintelligence.com. Or drop me an email with your number and I’ll give you a call.
    Nick

  21. Jamie says:

    I cant see how higgins is going to get out of this. Quinton hann got an 8 year ban a few years ago for something similar. Its only the fact that higgins is world number 1 that the wpbsa might look more leniantly on him than other lower ranked snooker professionals. Still, I dont think its any excuse and I think he should get a long ban myself (the same as hann) which will send the correct message out to the snooker world, that this wont be tolerated.

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