EXCLUSIVE: Forensic analysis points to ‘cut and paste’ in Higgins ‘match-fix’ sting video

By Nick Harris

18 June 2010

A second analysis of the News of the World video purporting to show the world No1 snooker player, John Higgins, agreeing to lose frames for cash has concluded that sections of the film have been ‘pasted together’, leading to a misrepresentation of events.

A forensic musicologist, using specialist equipment to examine for sportingintelligence the way the soundtrack of the tape was put together, has found “at least some of the audio has been manipulated and rearranged.”

The accompanying graphic represents one snippet of the film’s audio where a sentence has been “pasted” unnaturally into a sequence in the film. The red circle highlights a “giveaway” gap, estimated to be 100 milliseconds (a tenth of a second), which would not exist if the exchange had been left in its natural state.

There are multiple examples in the video where words attributed to the speakers in the subtitles were wrongly transcribed, or not actually said at all. In at least one part of the video, words appear to have been dubbed onto the video later.

Other anomalies in the film include the end section where the figures involved – Higgins, his business partner Pat Mooney, and two undercover News of the World reporters, one of them Mazher Mahmood – toast each other with vodka. They do so next to a table laid out differently to a table featured only seconds before in scenes supposedly from the same meeting.

As sportingintelligence has previously reported, Higgins and Mooney were subject to an elaborate NotW ‘sting’, believed to have cost around £200,000. A fake website used in the sting was then taken down, and it then emerged for the first time that the NotW video evidence was not what it seemed at face value.

An investigation for snooker’s governing body by the former Metropolitan Police chief superintendent, David Douglas, should ascertain what really happened.

On the face of it, his task should be easy: given access to original, unedited footage, he should be able to judge whether the allegations against Higgins stand up, and then bring charges and prosecute.

Snooker does have a problem with match-fixing. Nobody inside the sport disagrees with that. Police action is ongoing, and more imminent, against a number of players.

Match-fixing is a scourge that needs to be eradicated from all sports.

But some disquiet remains about the methods used by the News of the World in the Higgins case, and questions remain unanswered about the evidence as presented, so far.

After extensive inquiries by sportingintelligence using sources including players, officials, agents, WPBSA board members past and present, current and former promoters, and journalists including those with first-hand knowledge of the News of the World‘s work, including contemporary work, this website can reveal:

  • the NotW has not handed over unedited raw footage, for reasons including legal reasons surrounding protection of identities.
  • the NotW is, however, continuing to assisting Douglas with his inquiry, and is believed to have more information than it has published or screened, withheld so far for reasons unknown.
  • a media source says the paper was looking “for some months” at one or more other snooker players, and into allegations of match-fixing (nothing to do with Higgins), but failed to gather sufficient evidence for a story, and then switched attention to Mooney.
  • the NotW has nonetheless, separately, been in possession of another story relating to allegations of match-fixing against another player, also for several months, and has yet to run it for reasons unknown.
  • the NotW has used sources within the world of snooker for its work on Higgins and Mooney, raising questions whether snooker insiders involved in the sting or in provoking it – if identified – should also face charges relating to enticement into match-fixing.

Higgins and Mooney were covertly taped by the News of the World at a meeting in Kiev, Ukraine, on Friday 30 April, at the end of a lengthy “sting” operation.

The News of the World alleged in its edition on 2 May that Higgins agreed to “a disgraceful deal to fix a string of high-profile matches after demanding a £300,000 kickback.”

The paper hasn’t detailed – yet – which matches Higgins allegedly agreed to fix, nor has it yet printed or screened evidence of him “demanding a £300,000 kickback.”

A week after the first allegations, the paper alleged in a headline that Higgins had bet on himself to lose the 2009 World Championship final and then detailed in a story how he had not actually had the bet in question.

There has been no suggestion by the paper at any time that Higgins or Mooney have committed any criminal offence, nor have the police or Gambling Commission been involved at any stage in this case.

Both men are certain to face “sporting charges” to be tabled by snooker’s world governing body. At the very least, they will face charges of failing to report an approach about match-fixing within 24 hours of receiving that approach.

No player is ever known to have been charged and punished for failing to report an approach, even though a number of players have made public statements saying they’ve had such approaches after the fact. Indeed the NotW carried such a claim on 2 May, by Mark King, in the same pages that it made claims about Higgins. It is understood King neither reported that alleged approach, nor faced action for not reporting it.

The head of the WPBSA, Barry Hearn, promised the enquiry would take “days and weeks” rather than “months and months”, but the immense complexities mean that it is taking longer than first envisaged. No time frame has been put on its completion.

The findings of all of sportingintelligence’s own inquiries have been made available to all interested parties.

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