Tuesday 20 February 2018

Snooker: Higgins banned but cleared of match fixing

John Higgins. Photo: PA
John Higgins. Photo: PA

John Higgins has been handed a six-month suspension from snooker and fined £75,000 after admitting breaching rules around betting.

During the two-day hearing in London which finished today, the 35-year-old Scot admitted two of the lesser charges levelled against him.

But the more serious charges of match-fixing were withdrawn.

The former world champion was suspended in May pending an investigation into allegations of frame-throwing which were made by the News of the World.

He admitted "intentionally giving the impression to others that they were agreeing to act in breach of the betting rules" and failing to report the matter promptly to the governing body, World Snooker.

However, the charges of "agreeing or offering" to accept bribes and "agreeing to engage in corrupt or fraudulent conduct" were dropped.

Higgins and his manager Pat Mooney, who resigned from the board of the World Professional Billiards and Snooker Association, were filmed by the News of the World newspaper allegedly agreeing to accept £261,000 in return for fixing the outcome of four frames in matches to be played later this year.

Like Higgins, charges 1 and 2 against Mooney were withdrawn, while he admitted charges 3 and 4.

Higgins always denied any wrongdoing and insisted he would fight to clear his name, and the world governing body today agreed the player "would never throw, and had no intention at that meeting of throwing any frame of snooker for reward".

In his summary of decision, Mr Ian Mill QC said: "The association has explained that this withdrawal resulted from an acceptance, following an investigation which all concerned have correctly characterised as very thorough and fair, that Mr Higgins had truthfully accounted for his words and actions at the meeting in Kiev on 30 April, selected extracts from which subsequently were widely publicised.

"In short, his account (which has remained consistent throughout) was as follows. Mr Higgins found himself in that meeting having only just beforehand been warned by Mr Mooney that there was a possibility (nothing more) that the subject of throwing frames might arise as part of the overall business discussions that were about to commence.

"Without any opportunity for mature reflection Mr Higgins, who is by nature someone who seeks to avoid confrontation or unpleasantness, decided to play along with the discussion when the topic did indeed arise.

"He also found the atmosphere in the meeting somewhat intimidating. His focus was entirely on bringing the meeting to an end as soon as possible and getting on a plane home.

"He would never throw, and had no intention at that meeting of throwing any frame of snooker for reward.

"I have no doubt that the association was right to conclude that this account by Mr Higgins was a truthful one."

Higgins, suspended by the association on May 2, will be banned from the game until midnight on November 1.

He also has been ordered to pay a contribution to the costs of the hearing.

Higgins had vowed to "vigorously defend" himself in the face of the allegations in May and insisted he was "100% innocent", saying he believed the meeting with the journalists was to arrange a series of tournaments in Ukraine.

The summary of decision laid the blame for the predicament the Scot found himself in squarely at the door of Mooney, claiming the manager had put the player in "a highly invidious position".

Explaining the reason for the withdrawal of the more serious charges against Mooney, it read: "The association's explanation for these withdrawals was very different.

"The association maintained that Mr Mooney had in fact intended to act fraudulently and corruptly as alleged.

"However, a last-minute argument advanced on behalf of Mr Mooney by Mr Phillips QC, based on a proper construction of the rules to which charges 1 and 2 refer had persuaded the association that it did not have sufficient prospects of proving those charges."

It continued: "Mr Higgins was put in a highly invidious position by Mr Mooney, who was entirely responsible for Mr Higgins' presence in Kiev and, in particular, at the meeting there on 30 April.

"Mr Higgins can be criticised for the way in which he chose to respond to the situation in which he found himself."

Press Association

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