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White is cleared in betting inquiry

The cloud hanging over the Embassy World Snooker Championship did not clear yesterday but at least it did not get thicker. Jimmy White was eliminated from an investigation into match-fixing while Peter Francisco must wait to see if he too will be exonerated.

After a six-hour inquiry at Sheffield's Grosvenor Hotel yesterday into the players' first-round match at The Crucible over the weekend, the disciplinary committee of the World Professional Billiards and Snooker Association issued a statement at 8.30pm.

"The commitee accepted a submission that there was no case to answer against Jimmy White," it read, "and in view of the late hour the inquiry will continue in respect of Peter Francisco on a date to be announced tomorrow [Thursday]. In view of the inquiry being incomplete at this stage, no questions will be taken and no further statements made.''

The decision means the World Championship can continue with White, the 10-2 winner of the match, completely cleared, while the option to probe further into Francisco's behaviour away from the event remains open. No one, last night, expected the inquiry to resume while play goes on at The Crucible.

The inquiry was called on Sunday after the WPBSA were informed of betting irregularities by bookmakers who were concerned by an unusual amount of money going on a 10-2 result. The odds had slumped from an intial 5/1 to 7/2 and then 5/2 while there were virtually no takers for a 10-1 or a 10-3 result.

Alarms began to ring at 1pm on Saturday, six hours before the match started causing a halt to bets. The contest on the table was also pretty unusual, lurching from a tight encounter at 2-2 into a rout as White, the world No 4 and runner-up at The Crucible six times, won eight frames in a row. The quality of the snooker was not of the highest order.

John Spencer, the former world champion and chairman of the WPBSA, had watched every frame of the match in response to the bookmakers' fears and was the first witness yesterday. His evidence, alone, lasted more than four hours and consisted of detailed examination of a video recording of the match.

When he appeared he said neither player had been interviewed at that stage so it was a surprise when White, who is accepted by his peers as a scrupulous follower of the rules, followed soon afterwards. "I have been eliminated from the inquiry," he said, "which was the biggest odds- on bet of all time.

"It's cost me a day's practice and it's not a nice thing hanging over you but something had to be sorted out." Asked if the inquiry had damaged the World Championship, he replied: "It's not cast a shadow. The game's too big and too clean to be crooked.''

Francisco, a 33-year-old South African who is ranked 61st in the world and who has career prize money of £260,000, chose not to make a statement.

Meanwhile, Graham Sharpe, a spokesman for bookmakers William Hill, announced that bets simply backing White to beat Francisco will be honoured and that wagers for White to win the championship are now legitimate. "Anyone who backed a 10-2 result," he said, "should keep their betting slips.''

World Championship results, Sporting Digest, page 39