Higgins' agent makes a case for defence against match-fixing

Barry Hearn launches investigation as world No 1 insists he was 'spooked' and 'just wanted to get home'
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The Independent Online

As the chairman of snooker's governing body, Barry Hearn, promised yesterday that the game's authorities will investigate frame-fixing allegations against the world No 1, John Higgins, "in the fastest possible timetable", Higgins' manager, Pat Mooney, told The Independent that Higgins was "absolutely oblivious" to any proposal that he was going to be asked to lose four frames in non-specified exhibition matches in the future until moments before a 10-minute meeting with undercover reporters to discuss the matter last Friday.

Higgins, 34, was indefinitely suspended on Sunday for allegedly agreeing to throw frames for money, while Mooney resigned from the WPBSA board in the wake of reports in the News of the World alleging Higgins agreed to accept £261,000 for losing frames.

Higgins has denied any wrong-doing and has insisted he will fight to clear his name. Hearn confirmed he has spoken to Higgins since the allegations were made. "Obviously the guy is in bits," he said. "And I can sympathise, empathise, with him because it's been his whole life. The guy is No1 in the world.

"We had a very frank conversation because I was in a position to say 'Look, I'm not judge and jury here, my job is to refer it to the appropriate authorities. But as a friend, which I would classify myself as to John Higgins because I've known him for 20 years, it doesn't look good, John'.

"We all watched the video, we've all seen it. Now, whatever reason there may be behind the scenes – and John has subsequently come out with a statement – I can only judge on the visual evidence that is in front of me.

"I just stressed to John that this is something that is not going away but it will be treated as a very, very serious offence, potentially, and if he is found guilty will carry the most severe of penalties.

"I believe he's a proud man, I actually believe he's an honest man but I can't ignore the evidence in front of me and the damage potentially it could do to the game."

Higgins released a statement yesterday saying he would clear his name. "I will cooperate fully with the snooker authorities," he said. "I have built my reputation on honesty and integrity. Sadly others have now damaged that reputation and it is now left to me to clear my name."

The WPBSA investigation will be led by a new board member, David Douglas, a former Metropolitan Police detective chief superintendent, and he will meet with News of the World officials today, and request access to all and any materials accrued in their investigation.

There is no question of the case being considered by the Gambling Commission or police because, contrary to the News of the World's headlines, no criminal offence has been alleged, or taken place. The games Higgins was purportedly asked to lose would be in future exhibitions sponsored by the News of the World's "businessmen" and their associates.

It is not unusual for exhibitions to be "fixed" in as much as some exhibitions are more theatre than sport; they could involve anything from trick shots to "audience participation" frames. It is not clear from any of the published News of the World material what events Higgins was allegedly going to lose frames at, although one News of the World reporter does state at one stage: "It's exhibition matches."

Mooney spent weeks in negotiations with a fake company set up by the News of the World for the sting. He claims that only on arrival in Kiev to examine a proposed venue was he told that an official he was meant to meet was not coming. Instead, two unfamiliar reporters asked him whether Higgins could lose frames for cash.

"John knew nothing about it until the meeting on Friday morning, by which time we were both so spooked, we agreed to say whatever necessary to get out of there," Mooney says. That 10-minute meeting, filmed, became the heart of the case against Higgins, who could face harsh punishment for any discussion of losing a frame for money. Higgins and Mooney have weakened their defence by failing to report to Hearn their meeting on Friday with the News of the World "businessmen" as soon as they got home.

In a statement Higgins said: "When it was suggested that I throw frames in return for large sums of money, I was really spooked. I just wanted to get out of the hotel and on to the plane home."

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