Spot-fixing: Butt and Amir’s appeals rejected

Salman Butt and Mohammad Amir’s appeals were rejected in less than two hours today by the country’s most senior judge.

The Lord Chief Justice said that cricket would be “poorer” for Amir’s absence from the game, but added that the sport would be “utterly impoverished” if spot-fixers were not properly punished for their criminal offences.

Butt’s sentence remains 30 months in jail; Amir is detained at a young offenders institution for six months, but is likely to be released just after Christmas.

Lord Judge said the teenage bowler was “not so young that he did not realise what he was doing”, and later condemned Butt’s appeal, saying that his case was “unarguable” because he had been a “malign” influence on Amir and Mohammad Asif.

In a strongly worded judgment, the Lord Chief Justice said: “These three cricketers betrayed their team, the country they had the honour to represent and the sport that gave them their distinction and all the followers of the game around the world.

“All that was required of them was that at all times they should play to the best of their abilities – no more, certainly no less. The reality is that if for money, or any other extraneous reward, this cannot be guaranteed, then all the advantages they enjoyed which come from those who watch cricket, whether on television or at the match, will eventually be destroyed.”

In the two hour hearing at the Court of Appeal, Butt’s legal team had argued that his sentence was excessive on various grounds. They claimed the trial judge, Mr Justice Cooke, had taken too high a starting point for his sentence of 30 months, and not taken into account the full impact of the ICC’s ban on the former Pakistan captain.

Ali Bajwa, QC, representing Butt, added that the offender was a “broken and devastated man”. For the first time, he admitted his part in the spot-fixing conspiracy, but said that it may have been induced by the News of the World’s massive reward of a £150,000 bung.

Mr Bajwa also likened the case to the high profile convictions of MPs caught fiddling their expenses, and said that the jail terms should have been similar to those.

Amir’s defence lawyer argued that it took courage for him to have pleaded guilty, and that the ICC ban was already punishment enough for a star on the threshold of a great career. They argued for a suspended sentence on the basis that his was an “exceptional” case.

Lord Judge, sitting with Mr Justice Globe and Mr Justice Royce, dismissed the appeals and accepted Mr Justice Cooke’s original judgement at Southwark Crown Court.

Lord Judge said: “As the narrative shows, this corruption was carefully prepared. It was not the spur of the moment or a sudden temptation to which either applicant succumbed.”

Addressing Butt’s appeal, he said that there was evidence he was fixing before the Lord’s Test. He said that Butt’s attempt to bat out a fixed maiden over at the Oval Test last summer, failed not because he repented, but because he could not guarantee it against a new ball.

Lord Judge added: “The captain was a malign influence on Amir and indeed on Asif. Without him this corruption would not have occurred. His duty as captain, at the faintest whiff of corruption, was to step in and stop it.

“Mr Justice Cooke said he orchestrated it and it seems to us the judge was fully entitled to reach this conclusion.

“But for the fact that [the right] had been given to Amir to argue that the sentence was excessive we would have said that for Butt it was unarguable.”

Addressing Amir, the Lord Chief Justice said that there was evidence he was in contact with another fixer in Pakistan before the Oval Test, independent of arrangements with corrupt fixer Mazhar Majeed.

“Amir was much less culpable,” he said. “He was open to the malign influence exerted by Butt.  But he was not so young that he did not know what he was doing, and he appreciated he was responsible to deliver the no balls in such a way as the umpire could not miss that he had delivered them.

“He happily took the financial reward and contested before the ICC the charges against him.

“This prodigious talent has been lost to cricket for some years. Cricket will be the poorer for the loss. But in the longer term the game would be utterly impoverished if the court did not recognise that conduct like this is not just a matter of a breach of the rules of the game, but it is also criminal conduct of a very serious kind that must allow for a criminal sanction. A short custodial sentence was appropriate. We see no reason for interfering in the decision of the court.”

Meanwhile, outside court, it was confirmed Asif is seeking grounds to appeal against both his conviction and sentence, after changing his legal team.

He has instructed a new lawyer, Ravi Sukul, of Balham Chambers in South London.

It is understood he has also instructed lawyers to act on his behalf over immigration matters.

The visas of all three cricketers will expire during their sentences and they could be deported immediately after serving their terms. Such a measure would mean they are not allowed to return to the UK for 10 years and could affect their ability to travel elsewhere in the world. 

Follow RDJ Edwards on Twitter – @Cricketer_RDJ

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