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|Pakistan spot-fixing players and agent sentenced to lengthy jail
Butt jailed for two years and six months
Agent Mazhar Majeed handed
longest prison term
Imran Khan leads reaction to the
Three former Pakistan
international cricketers were escorted from the dock by prison officers on
Thursday after being handed combined jail sentences totalling four years for
their part in the spot-fixing plot in their Test match against England at
Lord's last year.
Salman Butt, the Pakistan captain during that Test
and a man described by Mr Justice Cooke as "the orchestrator of this activity",
was jailed for 30 months.
Mohammad Asif, who bowled one of three
prearranged no-balls at the centre of the conspiracy, was given a year in
prison. Mohammad Amir, who at the time of his crime was only 18 years old, was
given a six-month sentence. They must serve half of their sentences before
release on licence, and must do so in English prisons.
It is a heavy
price to pay for three men who, as the judge recognised, had until last year
been "heroes" for their nation and icons in their sport.
"The [essence] of the offences committed by all
four of you is the corruption in which you engaged was in a pastime the very
name of which used to be associated with fair dealing on the sporting field,"
said the judge. "'It's not cricket' was an adage."
Butt's agent, Mazher
Majeed, was described by the judge as being equal to Butt as one of two
"architects of the fixing", and was given a 32-month sentence, the heaviest
handed down in courtroom four of Southwark crown court on Thursday. The judge
softened what would have been a four-year sentence for Majeed in recognition of
his guilty plea.
Amir, who will be sent to a young offenders'
institution to serve his punishment, also pleaded guilty, reducing his sentence
from nine to six months.
Although Butt had falsely protested his
innocence throughout, his ban from all forms of cricket issued by its world
governing body and extending for at least five years led the
judge to reduce his custodial sentence by 18 months. The two bowlers are
serving similar minimum five-year bans from the International Cricket Council.
"That is the punishment imposed by the cricket authorities," said the judge,
"but these crimes of which you have been convicted require that a sentence be
imposed which marks them for what they are and acts as a deterrent for any
future cricketers who may be tempted.
"These offences, regardless of
pleas, are so serious that only a sentence of imprisonment will suffice to mark
the nature of the crimes and to deter any other cricketer, agent or anyone else
who considers corrupt activity of this kind, with its hugely detrimental impact
on the lives of many who look to find good honest entertainment and
good-hearted enjoyment from following an honest, albeit professional sport."
Though some might consider innocuous the deliberate bowling of no-balls
at a cricket match, since it leads only to a team conceding one single run to
the opposition's tally, the judge set out his motivation in clear terms. The
impact reaches far beyond the figures inscribed on a Test-match scorebook and
debases the credibility of the entire sport.
"Now, whenever people look
back on a surprising event in a game or a surprising result or whenever in the
future there are surprising events or results," said the judge, "followers of
the game who have paid good money to watch it live or to watch it on TV will be
led to wonder whether there has been a fix and whether what they have been
watching is a genuine contest between bat and ball. What ought to be honest
sporting competition may not be such at all."
Mr Justice Cooke also
made plain his concern that the four men's activity set out "to defraud
bookmakers." The fact that the charges against them resulted from a News of the
World sting did not impact heavily on the sentences issued, since the court
heard evidence that Butt, Majeed and Amir were all "discussing such activities
outside the scope of the sting".
Depressingly for cricket, the judge
gave a hint of his belief that the four men's crimes were probably not isolated
but could have been "the tip of the iceberg" and "part of the common culture."
Indeed, the judge held up to Butt the mirror of his own description of
his crimes. "In the words you used to the jury what you did was 'a
terrible thing it is bad for the game of cricket, bad for the country
and shows the character of the man involved'," Mr Justice Cooke said. "Those
were your own words."