Snooker: Higgins to learn fate in fixing probe

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The Independent Online

John Higgins will today reach the final stage in the quest to clear his name following the allegations of frame-fixing which stunned snooker. The three-time former world champion will face an independent tribunal at a hearing due to last two days, and hopes it will conclude with a judgement in his favour, allowing him to return to competition.

On 2 May, the first day of the World Championship final, the News of the World newspaper alleged that Higgins and his manager, Pat Mooney, had agreed to take money to influence the outcome of matches.

Higgins and Mooney both travelled to Ukraine where they took part in a meeting with undercover reporters posing as businessmen who they believed were keen to set up tournaments in the country. Higgins and Mooney ran the World Series of Snooker, which staged tournaments in countries the main professional tour did not visit.

The News of the World alleged the pair agreed to accept £261,000 in return for fixing the outcome of four frames in matches to be played later this year at the new events. Higgins swiftly denied the claims and insisted in a statement: "Can I say that I have never been involved in any form of snooker match-fixing. In my 18 years playing professional snooker I have never deliberately missed a shot, never mind intentionally lost a frame or a match." However, he was immediately suspended and warned he would face "severe" punishment if the allegations could be proven.

The hearing hosted by Sport Resolutions, a London-based independent dispute resolution service, will be held behind closed doors and World Snooker will announce the outcome in a statement at its conclusion.

If Higgins is cleared, he will be free to resume his playing career with immediate effect, and could make his comeback at the World Open in Glasgow, which begins on 18 September. Should the hearing find against him, however, Higgins would face a long suspension from the sport, although a lifetime ban appears out of the question, on the basis of recent remarks from World Snooker chairman Barry Hearn.

David Douglas, a former Metropolitan Police chief superintendent who joined the board of the World Professional Billiards and Snooker Association (WPBSA) in April, has led the investigation, which has involved examining the News of the World's dossier, including the full video footage of the meeting in Kiev.

The case will be judged by Ian Mill QC, who has considerable experience of dealing with sporting disputes. In 2004, he chaired the independent panel which turned down England and Manchester United defender Rio Ferdinand's appeal against his eight-month suspension for failing to attend a drugs test.

In May, Higgins described the task of proving his innocence as "the biggest match of my life". He insisted at the time of the allegations coming to light that he and Mooney had feared they were in the company of "Russian mafia" in Kiev and decided "to play along with these guys and get out of Ukraine". Higgins is expected to be asked why, if he had encountered such a situation, he did not report it to the WPBSA.

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