Stephen Lee handed record 12-year match-fixing ban
Snooker's ruling officials insist that Stephen Lee has been handed an effective lifetime ban after he was given a record 12-year suspension for seven charges of match-fixing.
The 38-year-old from Trowbridge, Wiltshire, angrily protested his innocence after the announcement of the sanction and is expected to lodge an appeal later this week.
The former world number five was found guilty of match-fixing charges relating to seven matches in 2008 and 2009, and the World Professional Billiards and Snooker Association had been seeking a lifetime ban. The organisation's head of discipline, former Metropolitan Police detective superintendent Nigel Mawer, said the 12-year ban and an order to pay £40,000 costs was effectively the same.
Mawer said: "We did say we were seeking a life ban because it was seven matches that had been fixed including during the World Championships. In effect it is a life ban because I think it is highly unlikely that Stephen Lee will be able to come back to the sport at this level.
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"We don't take great pleasure out of that – this is a case of a fantastic snooker player who has thrown it all away through making the wrong decisions.
"It is only human to have a degree of sympathy for him and it is going to be very difficult for him but we have to send a very strong message that match-fixing is not going to be tolerated.
"To my knowledge this is the longest ban ever handed down and there are £40,000 costs to pay if he wants to come back."
Mawer added that he believed snooker was overwhelmingly a clean sport. He said: "I am independent and outside the organisation and have a law enforcement background, and all the intelligence on irregular betting comes to me.
"Hand on heart I believe it is a very, very clean sport – I have only had to investigate four incidents in 7,000 matches and two have led to suspensions."
Lee, who was in financial difficulties at the time of the offences, claimed he had done nothing wrong and he is expected to make a statement tomorrow.
He told Sky Sports News: "I'm absolutely devastated. I'll be meeting with my QC and we're going to look at the whole picture and start making some big holes – they've got no facts. I've done nothing wrong.
"I'm totally innocent. My kids are getting picked on at school and it's totally outrageous, what I've been put through. I didn't have a lawyer to represent me; I believe if I'd had a lawyer in there it'd have been a different outcome."
He claims a newspaper interview will "paint the full picture", and said of the level of punishment: "It's over, isn't it? My career's over."
In his written findings of the case, tribunal chairman Adam Lewis QC pointed out that lifetime bans were not part of the disciplinary rules at the time of the offences but that he had the discretion to impose one of that length. He also said that Lee was now in a "financially perilous state".
Lewis said: "In all the circumstances, I do not regard a lifetime ban as proportionate, or as necessary in order to deter. I do regard a ban of a lengthy period to be both necessary in order to deter and as proportionate in the circumstances of the case."
Lee refused to make details of bank accounts available to the tribunal, and was described by Lewis as an "unreliable" witness, and a "weak" man who had been taken advantage of by others.
The findings state: "These breaches occurred when Mr Lee was in a financially perilous state not entirely of his own making and was finding it difficult to obtain entry to enough tournaments.
"As a weak man in a vulnerable position he succumbed to temptation. I consider it unlikely that he was the prime mover or instigator of the activity. It seems to me likely that advantage was taken of him."