Anyone with a passing interest in the assassination of John F Kennedy knows about the Zapruder film, the silent 8mm sequence shot by Abraham Zapruder as the president’s car drove through Dallas on a fateful day in November 1963. For almost 60 years it has been picked over by experts and conspiracy theorists alike in the hunt for who really killed JFK.
Over four days in a stuffy room on Fleet Street in March, almost as much forensic scrutiny was applied to another grainy video. As Michael Vaughan sat watching the two minutes and 29 seconds of Sky Sports footage, spliced and diced, disputed and fought over, he knew that his reputation and career was on the line.
At the heart of the case were 14 words that the former England captain was alleged to have said to Yorkshire’s Asian players before their Twenty20 match against Nottinghamshire in 2009: “There’s too many of you lot; we have to have a word about that.” The problem for the Cricket Discipline Commission, who heard the case, was there was no equivalent to frame 313, which captured the fatal shot to Kennedy’s head.
However Vaughan’s high-powered legal team still decided to make it a cornerstone of his defence, which ended on Friday with the case against him not being proved. It turned out to be a masterstroke – even though the Sky footage of Yorkshire players in a huddle cut away during the crucial 19 seconds where Azeem Rafiq had alleged that Vaughan had uttered racist and discriminatory words.
Why was it so effective? It helped Vaughan’s case that one of the key witnesses, Adil Rashid, gave every impression of preferring to have faced the great West Indies bowling attacks of the 70s and 80s rather than Vaughan’s counsel, Christopher Stoner KC.
Stoner started by taking Rashid back to the day in 2009, when the incident is said to have taken place.
“Was it a day or night game?” “I can’t recall that,” said Rashid.
“What was the result?” “I can’t remember.”
“Do you remember how many wickets you took?” “Zero.”
“Do you remember what the weather was like that day?” “No.”
The implication was clear. If Rashid, one of Rafiq’s key witnesses, could not remember the basics of the match, could he really be trusted to remember what had been said?
Stoner then showed Rashid footage of patting his teammate Tim Bresnan before the alleged incident was due to have occurred. “There are no signs of anything untoward,” he pointed out.
Later the panel was also shown frame-by-frame analysis showing how Vaughan had shaken the hand of Rashid 15 seconds into the footage, Rana Naveed-ul-Hasan after 17 seconds, and Ajmal Shahzad at 19 seconds. Furthermore, Stoner noted that Vaughan had also been aware of a cameraman videotaping the team moments before his alleged comments.
With this, Stoner was making two more related points. First, Vaughan – as he had stated in his 2009 autobiography – was proud to have Asian players playing for Yorkshire. And second, that even if he wasn’t, would he really have uttered a racist comment knowing the cameras were there?
The video evidence was also used by Vaughan’s legal team to skewer the ECB’s evidence gathering abilities. The ECB’s director of legal and integrity, Meena Botros, bore the brunt of it as Stoner questioned why they had not interviewed the players, officials or cameraman on the day in question.
“You spoke to Mr Rafiq and you spoke to Mr Shahzad but you didn’t speak to any of the players?” Stoner asked Botros at one point.
“I think that is correct,” came the reply.
“You didn’t speak to any of the umpires?” “No.”
“The cameraman?” “No.”
“Or ask to speak to Mr Vaughan?” “We wrote to him.”
“So you weren’t really interested in looking into the matter, apart from finding corroborating evidence, were you Mr Botros?” “That’s not correct,” came the reply.
It was something Stoner returned to in his closing submission, where he noted that several players had said they had not heard Vaughan say such words before attacking the ECB’s investigation as woefully inadequate. “Due process matters and it is the cornerstone of law,” he said. “But in our submission it was sent on holiday by the ECB. It raises a real question of fairness, which Mr Vaughan has not been afforded.”
That struck a chord with the panel, who said in their concluding remarks that the ECB case against Vaughan had not been “sufficiently accurate and reliable”.
But what of the two main protagonists? In his testimony, Rafiq was eloquent and often powerful as he outlined his case and talked of the “mental scars” that he had endured. He did say, however, to having amended the wording of Vaughan’s alleged comments, having originally claimed his teammate said: “There’s too many of you lot, we need to do something about it.”
That was something picked up on by the CDC panel in their decision, which noted the “significant inconsistencies in the evidence of both primary witnesses, Azeem Rafiq and Adil Rashid, in this regard”.
Vaughan was also measured when he gave his evidence, although there were signs of cockiness when questioned about his career by the ECB’s impressive counsel Jane Mulcahy KC. “It’s like a Question of Sport, this,” he said.
But there were uncomfortable moments for him too, with Mulcahy saying that three tweets sent in 2010 and 2017, including one that said “Not many English people live in London. I need to learn a new language,” were indicative of a general pattern. “If a person has a tendency to make racist comments, they have a tendency to make racist comments,” she said.
However, the panel said it gave some weight to the fact it had been an isolated allegation against Vaughan, along with his claim that he would never “put a group of my own teammates into a position where they wouldn’t be able to perform to their maximum, and that’s certainly not what I’m about.”
Ultimately, the panel decided that, on the balance of probabilities it “was more likely than not” that Vaughan had not made those comments.
However, in its closing remarks it also said that: “These findings do not in any way undermine the wider assertions made by Rafiq, many of which of course have been confirmed by the admissions of both Yorkshire and certain individuals, as well as by other findings of this panel.” For those of us who sat through every minute of testimony and evidence, that judgment felt about right.