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Dramatic day as Pakistan trio face sentence

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Gordon Farquhar | 22:27 UK time, Wednesday, 2 November 2011

You can't spend more than 20 years in journalism without seeing the inside of a court room. I'm no battle veteran, perhaps a Corporal with a few campaigns under his belt, but to continue the military analogy, this was a proper bombardment to surprise a Brigadier or two. Mitigation hearings surely don't come more dramatic.

Court Four at Southwark has been busy throughout: on Wednesday it was rammed, with solicitors and journalists squabbling over chairs and people straining to hear the judge's words in the public gallery at the back.

On the previous day former Pakistan captain Salman Butt and fast bowler Mohammad Asif were both found guilty of conspiracy to cheat and conspiracy to accept corrupt payments for arranging the deliberate bowling of no-balls in the Lord's Test against England last year.

Left-arm seamer Mohammad Amir and the players' agent, Mazhar Majeed had already pleaded guilty, but with reporting restrictions in place we hadn't been able to tell you. Now they appeared in court for the first time.

By the time proceedings began around 1100 GMT, pet theories had all been talked out by the sizeable gathering of journalists, the ranks swelled by the presence of some specialist cricket correspondents, including at least one former England captain, but I bet with all his inside knowledge of the gossip around match fixing even Mike Atherton was taken aback by what was to come.

The Judge Mr Justice Cooke was unimpressed by Amir's guilty plea, couched as it was in terms relating only to the Lord's Test. He claimed the two no-balls he delivered as part of the conspiracy were his only involvement, but evidence in court during the trial suggested otherwise, and the judge wanted answers.

He was handed a further file of submissions by Amir's team with the promise they would answer his concerns.

Then came the first of the day's interjections from the press. Quoting the Master of the Rolls in 1982, a colleague suggested reporting restrictions should be lifted as the risk of contempt was small.

A good effort, but not accepted by our red-robed and bewigged High Court judge who has handled this case as adroitly as one would hope and expect throughout. So, armed with yet more reading, he retired and so did we until 1400 GMT, when the shelling really started.

Back in court the atmosphere was getting even more febrile, the anticipation unexpectedly heated by the intervention of Majeed's counsel, who told the court they had changed their minds and wanted reporting restrictions lifted after all.

A game-changer for we custodians of the fourth estate who'd been given permission to tweet from the start of the trial. We began clattering out this drama to the world in 140-character bursts.

Majeed's lawyer went to town. Butt, he claimed, and not his client had initiated this fixing scheme in 2009, aided and abetted eventually by the others in the dock but also by a fourth player who wasn't facing charges. He offered no names, but if the International Cricket Council (ICC) get the transcript of the trial they'll have a few clues.

Pakistan cricketers Salman Butt and Mohammad Asif were found guilty of their part in a "spot-fixing" scam while Mohammad Amir had admitted the charges prior to the trial. Photo: PA

Then came the moment that led to the sharp, audible intake of breath. Majeed's counsel said he was going to explain how the proceeds from the News of the World's sting were distributed. He said that Majeed had paid £77,000 to the players involved in the no-ball fix, out of the £150,000 he was given.

He said £2,500 went to Amir, £10,000 to Butt, who was looking wretched in the dock at this point, and £65,000 to Asif. Asif? The man who said in his defence the no-ball was just a coincidence, and that he'd never had anything to do with this, and had never taken any money? Why did Asif get the lion's share? Well, according to Majeed's counsel it was because they needed to give him a big payment to keep him loyal to their group.

Pause, breath, mental adjustment. Mr Justice Cooke asked for a repeat. We hadn't misheard. Could the implication be that there was another fixing clique in the dressing room who were seeking his services? Fingers and thumbs flew as did the tweets.

Then another development. Perturbed, counsel for Butt and Asif raised their objections. This hadn't been information used as evidence and tested during the trial. It amounted, they argued, to "derogatory mitigation", damaging to their clients who denied any knowledge of the payments. This they said should be brought under reporting restrictions.

But the genie was out of the bottle, a point made again by interjection from another colleague, because we'd all tweeted it, and the dialogue among the twitterati was already under way. Too late to impose reporting restrictions now.

"True" said the judge, "too late" and anyway he didn't buy the objection. He did however agree that as this wasn't part of the trial evidence it would be discounted in his calculations in respect of the sentencing.

Majeed's mitigation finished with a story of how a good man, generous of time and money, devoted to his family and his diabetic wife had lost a fortune in the property game, and now understood he would be going to jail.

Not, according to his counsel, as the evil fixer as he had been portrayed, it was claimed, by the defendants in the trial when it suited them. No, no, far from it. Majeed would admit to being the arranger, but not the corruptor.

Butt's mitigation painted the picture of the man who had lost everything, from national hero to figure of contempt. Reputation, livelihood, the chance to be Pakistan captain, the chance to be involved in the game he lived for. His money was spent.

All that was left, said his counsel, was his family and for their sake could leniency be pleaded? An hour before his guilty verdict, his wife had given birth to a son. An immediate custodial sentence would keep them apart for who knows how long?

Asif's pleas went along similar lines. Reputation in ruins, livelihood destroyed, a four-month old baby girl at home needing a dad, all because his front foot had strayed over the crease when delivering that pre-arranged no-ball for the benefit of gamblers unknown, who stood to make far more from this than he did.

And so Amir. Head in hands at times in the dock, he looked older than his teenage years. Nineteen now, 18 at the time. Not for money, it was argued, had he done his. He was pressured into doing it and he was caught in a trap - sprung by whom? He did not say and made clear he would not name names.

His lawyer read his statement wherein he apologised to all of Pakistan for his actions. A prodigy, who did not know if he'd ever be employed to play cricket again. Mike Atherton's Times article where he argued for understanding in Amir's case was read in court.

Athers listened on from the press seats, watching the faces of the defendants, that seemed at least in Butt and Asif to have lost the indifference, perhaps arrogance that they wore at times during the trial.

A colleague who'd interjected earlier over reporting restrictions, and who has guided correspondents like me through the complexities of countless trials, observed that the players reminded him of juveniles he'd seen in the dock who'd suddenly realised the enormity of what they were facing, and whose swagger had evaporated.

He was right. It had. The consequences for these players are unavoidable and life changing. Sporting cheats, wherever they are, should be sleeping less comfortably. Good.

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    pakistan cricket fan here, hope they all get sent down and are never allowed to play county/international cricket again, they have commited the worst offence a sportsmen can make, betraying their country, family and friends for some extra money

  • Comment number 2.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 3.

    I'd expect them to get life bans from all forms of cricket, but the icc have always been too scared to tackle these things head on. The NoW did the job for them this time, and it would still be going on if it was left to the icc. Talk of more players involved in this matter will continue until the icc grows a pair and takes strong action, it would'nt surprise me if 4 or 5 more players were found to have been involved.

  • Comment number 4.

    Truly an amazing day, Majeed's lawler really went to town.

    Today is a true landmark, and we could get more fireworks yet. Despite the pleas, I think it's crucial for sentances that reflect how serious this is and as a firm deterrent.

    But still my overriding emotion with all this is one of sadness.

  • Comment number 5.

    Butt and Asif should be banned forever, but I feel sympathy for Amir. Do you really think an 18 year old can make wise decisions, especially when his seniors are all making bad (corrupt) ones. I think the judge should consider his plea that he was forced undertake such actions to maintain his career.

  • Comment number 6.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 7.

    #5
    I do feel sorry for Amir, and without question pressure was put on him by people he probably respected. But the fact remains he did what he did. If we are to get the message out there that its zero tollerance, then he should be banned for life with no right of appeal. If that makes young players stand up with confidence and tell the relevant authority about any problems then it has achieved what was intended.
    If we are still talking about match fixing/spot betting in 10 years time then their is no excuse for the icc. If they had dealt with the Cronje affair more seriously, which is still shrouded in mystery, then we may not be here now. Their will always be people trying to take advantage sport and sport stars, so we must have a safe way for these players to do the right thing without fear of intimidation or safety.

  • Comment number 8.

    #5 AR. 18 is the age of full adulthood in the UK, the age at which you are fully responsible for your actions. As Nick Hoult tweeted "this image of Amir the innocent teenager has been rightfully blown. He knew what he was getting into". The communications presented as evidence in court showed this. The only thing that will work in Amir's favour is his apology. The others have shown nothing by way of remorse, by all accounts.

  • Comment number 9.

    A very good piece of reportage, but please forgive me for saying that it is a pity that the piece was allowed to go out with the word 'council' - as in eg Walthamstow Borough Council - used throughout instead of the intended 'counsel' to indicate, barrister (or in other contexts, advice).

  • Comment number 10.

    Just plain greed. It makes a mockery about everything that sport is supposed to be.

  • Comment number 11.

    Amir gets Brownie Points for pleading guilty and the obvious circumstances of pressure. He looses a fair bit for not pointing fingers which is exactly what he should be doing. Minimum sentence + 1-2 years I think. Everyone else gets maximum.

    I should point out the court doesn't have the power to ban them from Cricket and those sentences have already been handed out by the ICC. Obviously with the guilty verdict the ICC should heavily consider reassessing those 'pathetic' bans.

  • Comment number 12.

    Sir Ian Botham is right. What is the international cricketting body doing while all this match-fixing lark is going on.

    It hasn't just happened recently, a few years back a top SA player was booted out of cricket altogether when caught out, as it were. Now we have these guys being caught red-handed.

    No excuse for them really to be so distant from everyday activities. They are the same as FIFA in football, rotten at the very top. What a crazy world we're living in nowadays !!

  • Comment number 13.

    My first thoughts on this sorry episode are why would an international sportsman who is fetted and pampered (and paid handsomely) for the duration of their career, be tempted to destroy their livihood and reputation via betting syndicates?
    Ridiculous greed, arrogance and selfishness, they have let down the game, their country and most importantly Pakistani fans.
    For Butt (the ex-Captain what an appalling example) and Asif, I have little sympathy. In the case of Amir as an England fan I am massively dissapointed that we might not get the chance to see his amazing talent internationally again? I do agree with Mike Atherton I think some leniency should be shown to Amir given his age and plausible influence by older colleagues, but he should recieve a ban and be involved in constructive efforts to highlight the pit falls of this malpractice.
    The ICC must now conduct a thorough review and aid players and staff in regards to betting and illegal gambling.

  • Comment number 14.

    sentences

    butt 30months

    asif 12months

    amir 6months

    all will only serve half

  • Comment number 15.

    Not impressed by the sentences but I guess the Judge should know what he's doing....

  • Comment number 16.

    The judge should have told them straight off, maximum sentences for all unless you tell us EVERYTHING, but he's bottled that idea and considering the severity of their crimes, the sentences are inadequate.

    Could someone give me £70,000, I'm perfectly willing to get a 12 month jail sentence for it, as I'd be safe in the knowledge that I'd get out in 6 months and no-one will even bother asking about any other payments I've received.
    The 'justice' system is a farce.

  • Comment number 17.

    @5

    Sorry AR, but I don't buy this special pleading for young Amir.

    There are millions of young people, considerably less priviliged than Amir and with considerably more pressure in their lives, with less prospects; young people who stick to the straight and narrow despite temptation from obvious quarters (drugs, crime).

  • Comment number 18.

    @17

    I wanted to add that the defence plea of ruined reputations and careers; of families temporarily bereft of naughty or misguided daddies - none of this is punishment. It is simpy the self-induced consequences of intentional action.

    The role of the court is to punish if guilty and in doing so rubber-stamp the nature of these intentional deeds.

  • Comment number 19.

    Good, you cheat, you get caught, you get punished. Now the ICC should ban them from ALL forms of cricket, and any cricket broadcasting that they are able to. They shouldn't be able to make any money from the sport that they thought they could cheat at with impunity.

    Rant over, and breathe...............

  • Comment number 20.

    @12

    Agreed.

  • Comment number 21.

    Sports Agents are the middle men in most of these cases and need to be pursued!

  • Comment number 22.

    I understand the public anger at the convicted players but I hope people don't forget that the important thing is that the authorities (i.e. ICC and the national cricket boards) provide protection for the cricketers against taking money to under perform.

    I don't claim to know the intimate financial regulations of all the national cricket boards but I do know that the Pakistani cricketers are vastly underpaid compared to their contemporaries from other countries. @13 Mark, these players are not footballers, they are not in anyway pampered or handsomely paid. They deserve much more compared to how much money they generate for the PCB (Pakistan Cricket Board). I'd like to go on but my earlier post was removed for (I presume) mentioning the PCB a bit too much.

    There is a murky underworld of gambling which (allegedly) takes the form of bribes and even in extreme cases of blackmail and violent threats. My point is that the authorities need to do much more to safeguard the cricketers.

  • Comment number 23.

    These cricketers may not be paid anywhere near as much as footballers, but they are still incredibly well paid compared to the average Joe in the street, they are obviously very well looked after at the grounds and all the time on tour, so there is no way any 'sob stories' about their way of life can ever be regarded as an excuse for the serious crimes they all committed.

    They lied in court, then spilt a few beans, but still withold many other names of cheats and assorted criminals (or so they claim), they even get to keep the money that's not already been reclaimed and what punishment do they get????

    Justice, absolute disgrace IMO

 

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