Cricketer guilty of taking bribes to fix matches

Former Essex player admits being paid £6,000 to manipulate number of runs scored off his bowling

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The Independent Online

A former Essex cricketer was warned that he faced jail yesterday after becoming the first English player to be convicted of involvement in betting scams.

In a case that police said would have "far-reaching consequences within the cricketing world", Mervyn Westfield, 23, pleaded guilty at the Old Bailey to accepting or obtaining a corrupt payment to bowl in a way that would allow the scoring of a certain number of runs.

Last night, in a bid to build a complete picture of how would-be fixers operate, the England and Wales Cricket Board announced an amnesty until April, freeing players and officials to give details of approaches to them or their peers, without fear of sanction. It is normally an offence under ECB regulations not to report such activity.

The charge against Westfield, which related to a one-day 40-over contest between Durham and Essex on 5 September 2009, represented the first use of anti-corruption legislation in a sporting context and comes only months after the jailing of three of the Pakistan cricket team.

Mohammad Amir, Mohammad Asif and former captain Salman Butt were convicted in November under different legislation of a spot-fixing scam that shocked world cricket.

Westfield, a former fast bowler from Romford, was paid £6,000 by a betting syndicate to bowl in a way that would allow the scoring of a certain number of runs from his first over. He was caught when he "unguardedly" confessed to a fellow player. Neither the player to whom Westfield confessed, nor the alleged corrupter, were identified in court.

Prosecutors did not bring a separate charge of assisting another person to cheat at gambling. The second person involved in the deal would be known to cricket fans, Judge Morris said.

The court heard that Westfield agreed to bowl the first over so that 12 runs could be scored, but only 10 were managed. Westfield said he agreed to the scam and took the money, but did not keep his side of the bargain. Judge Morris, who adjourned sentencing until 10 February, told him: "I hold out no promises to you as to the eventual outcome of this case. It's open to the court in this case to pass an immediate custodial sentence."

Westfield is the first professional cricketer in England to face prosecution for his involvement in spot-fixing in a county cricket match, following an investigation that involved the International Cricket Council, the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB), Essex County Cricket Club, the UK Gambling Commission and Essex Police.

Detective Sergeant Paul Lopez, of Essex Police, said: "We are pleased that Mervyn Westfield... admitted the charge and hope this sends a strong message to professional sportsmen and women." A police spokesman added the case would "have far-reaching consequences within the cricketing world".

Angus Porter, chief executive of the Professional Cricketers' Association, welcomed Westfield's decision to plead guilty. The ECB declined to comment. The cricketer remains on bail.