New concerns over editing of Higgins sting video as fake website cover-up continues

By Nick Harris

18 May 2010

As snooker’s governing body, the WPBSA, continues its inquiry into claims by the News of the World that John Higgins agreed to fix frames, a new analysis of the video evidence against Higgins published by the NotW suggests the footage has not only been cut and edited without full context to suit the NotW’s story but that some sub-titles are factually wrong and that some words presented as attributable to Higgins do not appear to have been spoken by him.

Whether there is a plausible explanation for this remains to be seen. Perhaps haste was to blame: the piece of footage most damning to Higgins involved him and his agent, Pat Mooney, and was filmed during a meeting in Ukraine on Friday 30 April. The edited video “highlights” had to be turned around within a day so they could be on the NotW website by late the following evening.

Whatever the reasons that some “errors” crept in – and on the basis of “innocent until proven guilty”, the assumption must be that the NotW did not introduce them to mislead – they are sure to be of interest to the WPBSA.

Its inquiry is being led by the former Metropolitan Police chief superintendent, David Douglas, and he has apparently been promised full assistance by the NotW, although it is not known whether he has had full access to all the details of the NotW’s sting (including a fake website, now taken down, more of which later), or all audio and video footage amassed during it.

The discrepancies highlighted by the new analysis of the video at the heart of the case against Higgins suggest full context will be required for a full and thorough investigation.

A full transcript of the video as screened is further down this page, but three discrepancies are as follows. (The timings mentioned are as found on this YouTube link of the video).

17-23 seconds: in a context unclear, the “main man” on the NotW sting team (we call him MM), says: “You’re going to tell him frame three I’m going to lose”. This is accurately reflected in the sub-title: “You are going to tell him frame three I am going to lose.”

The NotW sub-title then has Higgins saying: “Oh yeah. Frame three I am going to lose yes, yes”. The sub-title evidently draws the eye. But looking solely at what Higgins actually says and does reveals a difference between presentation and fact.

What Higgins actually appears to say is: “Frame three I’m going to lose, yeah. No. [Shakes head no].

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42-46 seconds: The MM, again in an unclear context, says to Higgins: “So you narrowly miss a ball go to pocket and that’s it.” This sentence, albeit oddly worded, is reflected correctly in the subtitle.

In the video, it is clear from Higgins’ lip movement that he says only a single word here in reply: “Yeah”.

Bizarrely, Higgins’ reply according to the sub-title, slightly out of sync, is: “Yeah, simple as that.”

Yet the words “simple as that” are spoken by a different voice, apparently in an English accent and not obviously attached to anyone in the room.

From all the footage made public, it appears there were four people in the room: Higgins, Mooney (both Scottish), the MM (whose voice is disguised) and somebody later named as Jaroslav, who speaks in heavily accented English. The person saying “Simple as that” is not known, but the NotW clearly suggests in subtitles that Higgins speaks those words.

It is to be expected that Higgins’ legal team will doing their own detailed analysis of all and any materials that have led to his suspension from all snooker. A sound recording expert who has analysed the video for sportingintelligence says: “This is neither Higgins nor Mooney saying ‘simple as that’ as their lips do not move. It is also highly unlikely to be anyone in the room, as the voice is a clear English accent which has not been treated with the same pitch-shifting effect as the interviewer.”

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1min 15sec – 1min 17sec: MM’s voice is heard asking a question: “How are we going to do the payment side?” but the question appears not to be in natural sync with the response from Mooney.

The sub-title for Mooney’s answer states: “I suggest put, you know you name the company you want . . . ”

What Mooney actually says on the video is: “ . . . is I suggest you put, you name the company you want . . .”

Analysis of the clip suggests Mooney either began his answer mid-sentence with the word “is”, or else the question and answer were cut together to appear to be something they’re not.

Such issues can quickly and easily be answered for Douglas by him being given the full footage as originally shot.

Douglas almost certainly will not have any access to the “sports insider” who set in train the NotW’s investigation in the first place. As the NotW states clearly on its “Sell a story” page, it has “a duty to protect the identity of confidential sources”.

Protection of sources is fundamental to investigative journalism for numerous good reasons, and sportingintelligence of course endorses protection of sources, especially in pursuit of corruptors in sport; match-fixing is a subject we have already covered often and take seriously.

Douglas may or may not be concerned with the elaborate nature of the sting, but solely its end product.

Higgins and Mooney are sure to argue that context is everything, and that they were entrapped by reporters pretending they wanted to stage events – or “exhibitions” as one NotW reporter was quoted as saying in the paper’s first-day coverage of the story on 2 May.

Part of the sting involved the setting up of a website for a fake company, Alfa Equity, which used details from real and respectable companies to appear authentic.

Some of these companies were and remain unhappy about this. The fake website has been taken down but sportingintelligence saved scans and other related data before it disappeared, a small amount of which we published here.

Most of the cache of the website has subsequently been removed, although other evidence has been left behind.

The News of the World ran two weeks of the Higgins story, on 2 and 9 May, but did not follow this up with any further revelations last weekend. The paper did, however, carry a small editorial on the subject, despite carrying no new copy, saying:

“THE News of the World’s investigation into snooker star John Higgins, leading agent Pat Mooney and match fixing goes to the heart of the game’s integrity and credibility.

This week we handed a detailed dossier of damning evidence to Barry Hearn, chairman of the sport’s governing body.

We know many of our readers are huge fans, and Mr Hearn will be keener than anyone to root out corruption and do for snooker what he has done for darts.

Anything less and the game as a national TV spectacle is finished.”

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TRANSCRIPT of the key “sting” meeting (the only taped footage of Higgins released so far)

Sequence begins, title: ‘Snooker champ John Higgins bribe scandal’

Cuts to room, John Higgins (JH) on left of screen, Mooney (PM) on right, main man (MM) reporter, off camera bottom right, at least one other person present, ‘Jaroslav’, (R2) bottom left.

MM: Again, this conversation is only between us.

JH: There’s no cameras is there? (Laughing)

MM: Yes. There is one there, look into it.

CUTS TO NEXT CLIP WITHOUT CONTEXT

PM: You make one mistake, it would be, you know, it’s er …

JH: You don’t even have to make a mistake.

PM: No, it’s [bleeped and inaudible]

MM: No, no, you have to be sure. If you’re going to say, and you’re going to tell him frame three I’m going to lose.

JH: Frame three I’m going to lose, yeah. No. [Nodding no].

[NotW sub-title says: Oh yeah. Frame three I am going to lose yes, yes]

MM: But, how, I mean, what if he gets a good break? I mean, what’s a risk factor, I mean.

JH: No risk, no you couldn’t, you could miss.

CUTS TO NEXT CLIP WITHOUT CONTEXT

JH: If you start leaving, leaving, leaving, leaving, leaving chances, people are saying ‘wait a minute, what’s happening here?’ But against other players it’s no problem.

MM: So you narrowly miss a ball go to pocket and that’s it.

JH: Yeah.

[Subtitles have Higgins saying “Yeah, simple as that”. But Higgins says only “Yeah”, while a separate voice, apparently with an English accent, and not the “main” reporter says “Simple as that”.]

PM: You roll two inches out of position. He knows that if a bounce off the top cushion or something like that and then suddenly you’re on a very difficult black which is, in any normal run of the day, you know that’s . . .

MM: [interjecting] I don’t know the sport that well but what I’m saying is you can miss one. I mean. You can’t keep missing them.

JH: You can. Yeah, you can.

MM: Well that’s your, that’s your, that’s your side of it. You’ve got to deal with that. So as long as we can agree on that.

CUTS TO NEXT CLIP WITHOUT CONTEXT (without any ‘agreement’ of anything shown on film)

PM: Another thing is, is it would be World Series only.

CUTS TO NEXT CLIP WITHOUT CONTEXT

MM: How are we going to do the payment side?

PM: [appearing to start his answer mid-sentence] … is I suggest you put, you name the company you want and you stick the logo on, and if you get a . .

MM: [interjecting] you see the problem with that is, what figure did we agree?

PM: Was it net 200, 300. Gross? Or what was it . . .? [Subtitles incorrectly states ‘It was net 200, 300’].

MM: Was it two or was it three?

PM: What was it? I mean . . . [bleep, NotW says the word was f***ing]. I’ll go for three. [Higgins and Mooney are laughing at this point, apparently amused figures are being picked from the air. This is the moment used later in stills to show them relaxed and laughing]. It was three.

The subtitle then says ‘Inaudible’, suggesting Mooney or Higgins had said something. Neither did. Neither’s lips moved. If there was something inaudible it was by someone else.

Reporter 2 (speaking from left of screen): The money doesn’t exist, officially.

PM: Right, okay.

MM: We don’t want it going through our books you see. We can’t have it, if we sponsor you then it’s er …

JH: Right, so you can’t do that then? You can’t … [sponsor the event? Give bribes? Context unclear]

MM: We can, but it’s more problem for us. It’s not a problem for you. It’s got to go through our books.

R2: Through the books and pay tax.

MM: [garbled six syllables or so, then] it’s hassle for us. Easier if it’s cash.

CUTS TO NEXT CLIP WITHOUT CONTEXT

JH: But then I’m thinking to myself how do I swallow 200, 300,000 pounds, or euros coming into [inaudible].

MM: Let’s agree the figure Jaroslav. Let’s agree the figure. We’ve agreed four, four frames during year one. Right? We are agreeing the figure now. What is the figure we are agreeing?

[NB: there is no agreement from Higgins or Mooney at this stage. Not a word or a nod. Because of no context, it is not even known what agreement is being sought for: exhibitions, public appearances, frames ceded to local players in exhibitions.]

‘Jaroslav’: 300.

MM: 300,000 euros is agreed. Agreed?

[Mooney appears to say ‘Agreed’, but it is not conclusive. The subtitle says ‘Agreed’. Higgins says nothing. The MM voice is wholly off screen, so we take on trust he is asking the questions as they appear and the answers to those questions are not dubbed].

MM: Are we happy with that?

[No response]

MM: Now the mechanics of paying it. How do we pay?

CUTS TO NEXT CLIP WITHOUT CONTEXT

JH: I’ve got a property in Spain, but I’m thinking to myself, what would we do, can, is there any way, if you’ve got a small mortgage or something on the property, and you can pay it off, would they be . . . ?  [Another garbled voice talks for half a second] Would they look me out with it? If you paid it off, in a lump sum.

CUTS TO NEXT CLIP WITHOUT CONTEXT

MM: So, four frames, one per, yep?

JH: Yeah (nods).

R2: Which one?

MM: He’ll tell us whenever. We are not going to discuss this ever again. You’ll just tip me off. Yep?

PM: (Nods.) Yep.

MM: OK? We agreed? OK?

JH: Yep (shakes hand with R2, and MM).

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