January 12, 2012 3:39 pm

Cricketer convicted over on-field corruption

Cricket’s governing body offered an amnesty to players willing to report past corruption, as the first ever English professional cricketer to be charged with “spot fixing” issued a guilty plea at the Old Bailey.

Mervyn Westfield, a former Essex county cricketer, admitted a charge of accepting money for deliberately underperforming during a domestic match.

He was bailed for sentencing on February 10, and was told by Judge Anthony Morris that he faces a custodial term. Another charge of assisting others to cheat at gambling was kept on file without being pursued. The judge did not reveal the identity of the person who paid the bribe.

Later on Thursday the England and Wales Cricket Board launched a “reporting window” to allow players and officials to provide information on any past approaches without fear of punishment.

Chris Watts, ECB information manager, said: “Information is critical in addressing the threat posed by corruption in sport.”

The prosecution case was that Westfield, a bowler, accepted £6,000 in return for deliberately conceding runs while playing for Essex against Durham in September 2009 in a Pro-40 limited-overs match.

Westfield was arrested in May 2010. He was released from his contract by Essex in September that year for cricketing reasons.

Westfield, aged 23, had agreed to concede 12 runs in his first over, the prosecution claimed, although he ended up conceding 10.

In seven overs, Westfield conceded 60 runs, with Durham scoring 276 for 6 wickets in their 40 overs. Essex won the match by seven wickets with 19 balls to spare.

Westfield’s conviction follows the jail terms handed down in November to three Pakistani cricketers, Salman Butt, Mohammed Asif and Mohammed Amir, for their roles in spot-fixing – the manipulation of certain moments in a sporting encounter – during the Lord’s Test against England in 2010.

They were the first cases of the police using prevention of corruption legislation in relation to sporting events.

The ECB, which last summer set up an anti-corruption unit, believes players involved in minor domestic matches are more at risk than international players of being approached by criminals, because of their lower wages and limited profile.

Cricket is a big betting sport on the Indian subcontinent, where gambling is illegal. The Essex-Durham match was broadcast on Sky.

“We are pleased that Mervyn Westfield, a young professional cricketer, has now admitted the charge,” said detective sergeant Paul Lopez of Essex Police.

“And we hope that this sends a strong message to professional sportsmen and women around the country – if they intend to get involved in spot-fixing, or think that match-fixing is not a crime, then they need to think again.”

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