Mervyn Westfield was jailed for spot-fixing today as damaging claims emerged that the county game had “turned a blind eye” to corruption.
Westfield, 23, was sentenced to four months behind bars for his part in a spot-fixing racket the judge said was orchestrated by his teammate Danish Kaneria, the Pakistan leg spinner.
Passing sentence at the Old Bailey, Judge Anthony Morris condemned Westfield for threatening to “destroy” the integrity of the game and “betraying” all fans of the game worldwide.
He also questioned whether Westfield was truly sorry for what he had done and said his guilty plea was only entered “very late in the day”.
Judge Morris said: “Although I accept that pleading guilty has involved a great deal of courage on your part, I have grave doubts whether even now you are really showing the great remorse, which your counsel says you are showing, as you have constantly sought to minimise what you did.”
The judge “accepted” that Kaneria was the corrupter – saying Westfield was “under some pressure to agree to this corrupt proposal by those who were more sophisticated than you.”
However he said that Westfield should have refused his approaches.
Addressing the 23-year-old in the dock directly, he said: “For financial gain you betrayed the trust placed in you to play honestly and to the best of your ability. You were trusted to do so by other members of your team, your employers, the supporters of Essex CCC and the very many followers of the game throughout the world.
“If because of corrupt payments it cannot be guaranteed that every player will play to the best of his ability, the reality is that the enjoyment of many millions of people around the world who watch cricket, whether on television or at cricket grounds, will eventually be destroyed.”
The judge added that a prison sentence was necessary to “mark the seriousness of the offence but also to deter others in your position from accepting such corrupt payments.”
He said that he compared his position to that of Pakistan’s young bowler Mohammad Amir, who was jailed last year at Southwark Crown Court for six months.
“Your counsel has urged me to draw a distinction between your sentence and the sentence imposed on Amir. I accept that there are grounds for making such a distinction but not such as to justify the imposition of a suspended sentence in your case.”
Earlier in the day it was revealed that Kaneria’s approaches to players offering bungs from bookies were an open secret at Chelmsford.
Mark Milliken-Smith, QC, defending Westfield, said it was “startling” that no one reported Kaneria to authorities, and accused players of perhaps deliberately “turning a blind eye”, because despite his links to fixers, Kaneria remained an important match-winning bowler for Essex.
The developments also plunge Pakistan cricket and the ICC into a fresh fixing controversy, after it emerged that they knew Kaneria had “highly inappropriate” links to a corrupt Indian bookmaker called Arun Bhatia going back as far as 2008. The leg spinner was officially “warned” but continued playing for club and country.
As The Cricketer revealed, Kaneria now faces a new ECB corruption inquiry which could impose a life ban from the game worldwide. After the judge said he accepted the Pakistani’s role in the corruption, many will why he was not in the dock alongside Westfield.
Essex Police originally treated the case as a “conspiracy” between Westfield and Kaneria and passed a file to the Crown Prosecution Service. But senior lawyers decided there was insufficient evidence for a “realistic prospect of conviction” against the Pakistani, and he was released without charge six months later. Both police and the CPS confirmed yesterday they would not be pursuing a new case.
However they will pass their files to the ECB for likely disciplinary charges. The case will be judged by the sanctions applicable at the time of the offences, in 2009, under which Kaneria could be banned from cricket for life by the ECB. The punishment applies not just to county cricket, but must be adhered to by all national and domestic cricket boards across the world.
* Read coverage of the trial on The Cricketer website, and follow RDJ Edwards’s tweets @Cricketer_RDJ