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NewsSnookerREVEALED: Why John Higgins was cleared of match-fixing (because the evidence, including a statement from Mazher Mahmood, told the full story)

REVEALED: Why John Higgins was cleared of match-fixing (because the evidence, including a statement from Mazher Mahmood, told the full story)

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By Nick Harris

21 September 2010

David Douglas, the former high-ranking Metropolitan Police officer who investigated match-fixing allegations against the world No1 snooker player John Higgins, has spoken in detail for the first time about why he concluded Higgins never intended to fix any match.

Higgins was banned earlier this month for six months, and fined £75,000, for talking about betting and for failing to report an approach about illicit gambling. Two other charges relating to fixing and corruption were dropped. Almost inevitably, the stigma of being accused by the News of the World on 2 May of “shaking hands on a disgraceful deal to fix a string of high-profile matches after demanding a £300,000 kickback” means mud will stick, regardless of an independent tribunal’s findings.

But Douglas has now detailed how his findings were based on specific and detailed evidence that led him to his conclusions. Some of Douglas’s reasons for concluding Higgins was innocent of any fixing or intent were voiced yesterday as the snooker authorities launched an integrity unit to clean up the sport and make it “whiter than white”, although sportingintelligence now publishes them verbatim for the first time (see below).

Additionally, Douglas has explained to sportingintelligence why he believes it was right both for him and for an independent QC, Ian Mill, to conclude Higgins knew nothing about any frame-fixing plot until the moment he was ushered into a room in Kiev on 30 April, where Higgins said whatever he felt necessary to get out, an explanation Douglas and Mill both also believed, again based on an extensive study of evidence.

Douglas outlines how his investigation had access not only to every audio and video recording taped during the lengthy News of the World sting on Higgins and his former business partner, Pat Mooney, but also to a “full statement” from the NoTW’s investigations editor, Mazher Mahmood, which helped him reach his conclusion.

Asked (in a press conference by a Radio 5 Live reporter) about the NotW’s apparently damning video of Higgins and Mooney talking about losing frames on 30 April, Douglas said: “I think you’re right in using the word that it was ‘apparently’ damning evidence, and I the first thing I’ll say is that when we investigate any complaint then we’re not just going to focus on what’s in the headlines, or what’s in the newspaper or what’s on television. It’s about doing a full and thorough investigation.”

Asked whether the video tapes were edited in order to paint Higgins in a much worse light, Douglas said the NotW had given him access to unedited material where he could see the whole context of what happened, and that the tribunal also had access to this. Douglas was satisfied the footage he saw unedited in private was the full footage.

He added: “Obviously when it goes on television, we all know that certain things get edited and moved around. That’s why I’m not particularly interested in what went out on the television [from the NotW website], I’m only interested in the original footage.”

This was the first official acknowledgement that the NotW ‘evidence’ as presented to the public on its website had been “edited and moved around”, as opposed to unedited and wholly representative of events as they actually happened, within full context.

The full text of questions and answers to David Douglas on this subject is below.

Douglas in fact praises the News of the World for their cooperation in his investigation, saying they provided him with a room at News International for viewing every piece of evidence, and says: “Mazher Mahmood made a full statement about everything that happened”.

That last sentence suggests that even Mahmood himself could point to no evidence of Higgins’ involvement in any fixing plot prior to the fateful 30 April meeting, understood to have been only around 11 minutes long, and which in any case reached no firm conclusion about what exactly was to be fixed, or how anyone was to be paid.

Douglas concluded that the NotW “are very clever at what they do”, to the extent that Higgins entered the final, fateful meeting believing there was a bona fide “huge sponsorship deal on the table”.

Douglas says: “Therefore when it comes to the final [meeting] you realise John was going in as a rabbit in the headlights. And therefore I’m absolutely confident, absolutely confident, backed up by Mr Mill, that [the tribunal verdict] was the right interpretation.”

.

Q&A with David Douglas about his investigation and findings in the John Higgins case

(Questions 1-4 from yesterday’s press conference; questions 5-6 from post-conference interview)

QUESTION 1: Some observers will be puzzled why, given the apparently damning evidence contained in the News of the World tape, which led Barry [Hearn] to suspend John [Higgins] in the first place, what the rationale was for withdrawing the most damaging charge against him, namely that he was prepared to fix frames for money. Why was that charge withdrawn without the evidence being tested?

DAVID DOUGLAS: I think you’re right in using the word that it was ‘apparently’ damning evidence, and the first thing I’ll say is that when we investigate any complaint then we’re not just going to focus on what’s in the headlines, or what’s in the newspaper or what’s on television. It’s about doing a full and thorough investigation. And that’s what the players deserve as much as anything else. If allegations are going to be made against them, they deserve to have it fully investigated and that’s what we’ll do, and that’s what I like to think we did in the case of John Higgins.

So when you look at everything that happened, the News of the World did a full undercover operation on Pat Mooney and John Higgins. It went on for a long time. And in actual fact when you look at what John did, and what the evidence shows, it shows that John knew nothing about the corrupt throwing of frames etcetera until literally he was just going into the final meeting in Kiev on 30 April, literally as he was just going in there. So when you look at what the evidence said and what charges that could support, then we go where the evidence takes us, it’s as simple as that.

Now when you look at the judgement that Mr Mill, who’s a very eminent QC, made at the end of the case, he quite clearly states that having looked at all of the evidence – and Mr Mill had access to all of the tapes, all of the video tapes, all the audio tapes from the News of the World, he had the statements from myself, Mazher Mahmood who made a full statement, John himself, Pat Mooney, everything – he said that he was in no doubt that the WPBSA were right, on the evidence, to charge John with what we charged him with. We will charge people with the offences we believe they committed, and what the evidence shows. We won’t charge people on what we believe other people might be saying about them.

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QUESTION 2: There were suggestions that the tape was edited in order to put Higgins in a much worse light than was justified. Is there any truth in that? And if it was the case, why was it not clearly aired in the tribunal hearing? Clearly that would have been to Higgins’ benefit, if he could have demonstrably shown that actually what he apparently said – and he went into great detail about he was going to launder the cash, and joked at the beginning about cameras in the room, this was ostensibly very damning stuff. If he could have shown that there was a much fuller picture that did not come to light in that edited video, if indeed it was edited, that would have been better for him. Why was that not aired at the tribunal?

DAVID DOUGLAS: In fact it was aired [in full], before the tribunal, because we were under very strict disclosure rules, as in every investigation. And in fact both respondents, Mr Mooney and Mr Higgins, and Mr Mill QC more importantly, who sat as the chair of the tribunal, had access to all of the material beforehand. The News of the World on a number of occasions allowed me to go into their offices to check that it started where it started, finished where it finished – and I was entirely happy that it [the raw footage] was unedited footage.

Obviously when it goes on television, we all know that certain things get edited and moved around. That’s why I’m not particularly interested in what went out on the television [from the NotW website], I’m only interested in the original footage.

And when you looked at that [unedited footage], it was clear that it was a continuous recording of everything that happened. Mr Mill was given access to that, and the respondents were given access to that, so you could follow it all the way through. So when Mr Mill made his judgement, he knew exactly what had happened. He knew exactly what was said before the ‘meaty’ part of the conversation in Kiev. He knew what happened afterwards. He knew about the meetings that had led up to Kiev. So he could put the judgement of John into context. And that’s the most important thing of all.

Sentencing is a really difficult thing, not just in sports arbitration. You look at any Crown Court trial, and there’s never agreement on what the sentence is at the end of the case, partly because sentencing is a judgement. Fortunately we had one of the best QCs in the country to make that judgement for us, a hugely impressive man, Mr Mill. And also because whoever makes that judgement has access to all of the material, and that’s the key thing. He spoke to John, he spoke to Pat Mooney. He had the ability to check everything for himself.

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QUESTION 3: Is there a problem about how to prove guilt [in actual fixing cases]? Most professionals would agree that it’s very easy for a top pro to just miss a pot, to just lose position, to play a poor safety shot. It’s equally difficult to prove that they intended to do so. If a player can say ‘OK you caught me saying damning things on tape but I was in fear of my safety’, how are you actually going to make a charge stick, in reality, however tough the rules are?

DAVID DOUGLAS: It’s difficult, no doubt about it, especially proving dishonesty, because it’s a state of mind. With the John Higgins and Pat Mooney case  it was slightly different because it was a discussion about what was going to happen, so it’s not something that has happened where you’re looking at the evidence subsequent. But you’re right, in snooker and darts it can be a game of millimetres . . . but in my view you’ll never prove a case just on whether a player missed or didn’t miss a shot. It’s all of the surrounding circumstances. I won’t go into all the things you look at, but you have to look at – Where was the money going on that game? Who was talking to who beforehand? What was said at the time? What happened afterwards? It’s like any criminal case. You don’t have [just] one piece of evidence that proves it for you, you have to put it all together. And that missing by a millimetre is only one part of the equation.

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QUESTION 4: In reality that’s going to be very difficult to do?

DAVID DOUGLAS: It is difficult. There’s no doubt about it. I’m not saying this is easy. I’m not saying investigating corruption issues is going to be straightforward now that we have Monitor Quest on board. It’s going to be as difficult as it ever was. All I’m saying is that now we have a much better chance of actually proving that because we have the people with the skills to look at that financial profiling, all the telecommunications data, we have people on board now with all the experience.

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QUESTION 5: There are people who think that a longer ban [for Higgins] may have been appropriate.

DAVID DOUGLAS: I’m entirely comfortable with the investigation leading to the sentence that happened. To me, it’s about investigating thoroughly, and then putting that in front of an independent person. Ian Mill QC – and Lord Stevens and I have seen a number of QCs over the years; we had a court full of them in the Diana inquiry, very eminent people – and Ian Mill QC is one of the most impressive people I’ve ever seen, legally. He had a total grasp of every fact, right down to paragraph numbers, page numbers, the whole thing. He had a chance to speak to John Higgins, to Pat Mooney, he had all the legal submissions.

What I’m saying is that [therefore] my view is whatever sentence Ian Mill comes out with is right, because he’s an eminent QC. It would actually be impertinent for anyone else to say ‘You’ve heard all the evidence, you’ve got a lot of experience in sports arbitration, we’re unhappy with your judgement.’

Part of the battle that we have is that people will have seen the News of the World headline, they’ll have seen two minutes on television [a reference to the 3min 37sec edit of Kiev meeting shown on the NotW website], and our investigation is actually about everything but the two minutes.

The two minutes is there, it’s on television, everybody’s seen it. The investigation is about everything else so you can put that into context.

And I’ll repeat the point, and this was shown by all the evidence: that John was literally walking into that final meeting when Mr Mooney said to him ‘By the way, they may bring up throwing a few frames, just go along with it’, or words to that effect.

You put yourself into John Higgins’ shoes when you’re walking in there, with a huge [fictional] sponsorship deal on the table. The News of the World are very clever at what they do, very clever indeed. And what I’m saying is the context is there, and that’s what Mr Mill looked at.

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QUESTION 6: People who don’t necessarily understand the scope of your investigation, the layman who just saw the NotW video on the website and the headlines, will probably have doubts forever about John Higgins. Can you elaborate just quite how detailed your investigation was – the scope of what you checked – so that you believed Higgins’ version of events?

DAVID DOUGLAS: Because I was allowed to look at ALL of the evidence. Whatever you think of the News of the World, they were helpful [to me]. I was given a room at News International to go through all of the material, all the audio tapes, all the video tapes, all the different angles, everything, start to finish, unedited. I had to go through all of that. And in addition to that, Mazher Mahmood made a full statement about everything that happened. But also when I asked them for things like receipts, copies of invoices, hotel bills, they provided all of that. So there’s a whole load of evidence around this, and what I also had which isn’t in the public domain was Pat Mooney’s statement, and John Higgins’ statement, and when you look at those, it’s very easy to see what happened. To be fair to Pat Mooney, he said ‘Hands up, I didn’t tell John about this until we were just about to go in.’

Clearly there was no collusion between them. They have fallen out. The entire thing, the whole thing [relationship] is fractured. Pat, to give him his due, said John knew nothing about this.

And then, because I’ve listened to all the audio tapes, it’s not about 30 April in Kiev, [I know] it’s about Edinburgh on 8 April, it’s about Kiev on 29 April, and you hear conversations going on specifically out of the hearing of John Higgins, so he’s not to brought into this, because they know, fundamentally, they knew he was honest.

And therefore when it comes to the final [meeting] you realise John was going in as a rabbit in the headlights. And therefore I’m absolutely confident, absolutely confident, backed up by Mr Mill, that that was the right interpretation.

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More on the Higgins case

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