Essex spot-fixing trial: Mervyn Westfield pleads guilty

Mervyn Westfield, the former Essex fast bowler, has become the first English cricketer to be convicted for spot-fixing after admitting he took bribes to deliberately bowl badly.

The 23-year-old is facing jail after making a dramatic, last-minute guilty plea before a two week trial was due to start at the Old Bailey in London.

Westfield was accused of taking a £6,000 bung to deliberately leak a guaranteed number of runs in two Natwest Pro40 matches against Durham and Somerset in September 2009. He had denied the allegations for almost two years.

It is the first case of fixing proved in English county cricket – and follows the conviction two months ago of former Pakistan Test captain Salman Butt and bowlers Mohammad Amir and Mohammad Asif.

The revelations plunge the game into fresh controversy and raise new questions about the extent of fixing in the sport. Security chiefs have voiced fears about how vulnerable county cricket could be to corruption.

Westfield was the first cricketer in the world to be criminally charged with spot fixing after a six month investigation by Essex Police in 2010. The Pakistan corruption scandal broke while he awaited trial, which was delayed by legal processes.

Westfield, dressed all in black, appeared at a brief 15-minute hearing in Court 1 at the Old Bailey today to plead guilty to accepting corrupt payments.

The court heard that the fast bowler took a £6,000 bribe to deliberately concede at least 12 runs in his first over against Durham in a 40-over game on September 5, 2009. In the event, he only conceded 10, and Essex went on to win the match by seven wickets. But the court heard he received the cash nevertheless, possibly as a down payment for future fixes.

Westfield will be sentenced on February 10, where full details of prosecution case will be revealed and a man who allegedly corrupted Westfield will be named.

Judge Anthony Morris said: “The alleged corrupter is a man who is known to me and many people interested in cricket.”

Westfield, however, is the only cricketer charged with corruption and no one else faces criminal sanction.

The judge added that he “could hold out no promises” for the fast bowler, who faces a custodial sentence. The only legal precedent is the case of Butt, Asif and Amir, who were all jailed for terms between six months and two-and-half years.

The two matches under scrutiny were played in September 2009, and screened live around the world, including the subcontinent, where vast sums are bet on illegal markets. They were televised in Asia through the ECB’s broadcasting contract with ESPN Star Sports.

Against Durham, at Chester-le-Street, Westfield bowled seven overs, conceding 60 runs, with four wides and two no balls. England vice captain Alastair Cook was a teammate that day and went on to score a century as Essex won by seven wickets.

It was also alleged that Westfield deliberately bowled badly in another 40-over match three days later, playing Somerset at Taunton.

At a pre-trial hearing it emerged that Westfield boasted to teammate Tony Palladino about his fixing and showed him the bung money. Palladino reported the matter and was due to be the chief prosecution witness giving evidence against Westfield. Lawyers were also seeking to call former Essex captain Mark Pettini as a witness.

Essex Police launched their investigation in March 2010. Westfield was arrested alongside teammate Danish Kaneria, the Pakistan leg-spinner. Kaneria was later released without charge, and the Crown Prosecution Service announced Westfield would be prosecuted for conspiracy to defraud in September 2010.

The case dragged through the courts after the CPS applied to have the charges changed, a process which required authorising by the Attorney General.

Westfield was finally charged for accepting corrupt payments under the 1906 Corruption Act, and for “assisting another to cheat at gambling”.

The case set a legal precedent which led to the same charges being used to prosecute the Pakistan Test cricketers for the bowling of deliberate no balls against England at Lord’s in August 2010.

At the Old Bailey today Westfield pleaded guilty to the accepting of corrupt payments. The second charge, under the Gambling Act, was left to lie on file.

The fast bowler was granted bail by the judge after the court heard that his father is suffering from prostrate cancer and is due to undergo an operation next week.

After the hearing, a spokesman for Essex Police said: “Mervyn Westfield is the first professional cricketer in England to face prosecution for his involvement in spot-fixing in a county cricket match.

“Whilst centred on the domestic game, the case will nonetheless have far reaching consequences within the cricketing world.”

Det Sgt Paul Lopez added: “This was a ground breaking case for Essex Police, which was highly complex. Detectives worked with prosecutors to determine what offences the defendant should face which eventually required the Attorney General to become involved.

“We are pleased that Mervyn Westfield, a young professional cricketer, has now admitted the charge 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.”

* Read coverage of the trial exclusively on The Cricketer website, and follow RDJ Edwards’s tweets from the court @Cricketer_RDJ

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