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UK betting firm offers 'money back' if Oscar Pistorius found not guilty

March 3, 2014 -- Updated 1959 GMT (0359 HKT)
Oscar Pistorius reaches out to his uncle Arnold Pistorius and other family members as he is led out of court in Pretoria, South Africa, after being sentenced to five years in prison on Tuesday, October 21. Pistorius, the first double-amputee runner to compete in the Olympics, was sentenced for culpable homicide in the February 2013 death of his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp. Oscar Pistorius reaches out to his uncle Arnold Pistorius and other family members as he is led out of court in Pretoria, South Africa, after being sentenced to five years in prison on Tuesday, October 21. Pistorius, the first double-amputee runner to compete in the Olympics, was sentenced for culpable homicide in the February 2013 death of his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp.
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • UK betting firm Paddy Power offering odds on the Oscar Pistorius trial
  • Advert with 'Money Back If he Walks' strapline sparks outrage
  • Thousands sign online petition demanding it is withdrawn
  • Paddy Power is known for its irreverent campaigns

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(CNN) -- A British betting firm has sparked outrage with a controversial advert which offers punters money back if South African sports star Oscar Pistorius is found not guilty of the murder of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp.

Bookmaker Paddy Power began its book on the outcome of the trial last week, prompting widespread criticism on social media, but then updated its offer with the advert to coincide with Monday's start of the trial in Pretoria.

It features a photograph of Pistorius mocked up as an Oscar-style Academy Award statuette with the strap line: "It's Oscar Time. Money Back If He Walks. We will refund all losing bets on Oscar Pistorius if he is found not guilty."

In response, an online petition has been started on change.org, demanding that Paddy Power withdraws its "offensive betting" on the outcome of the trial and donates any profits to a women's charity fighting domestic violence.

It quickly gathered over 60,000 signatures and counting within a few hours of being promoted.

The petition was started by Jean Hatchet, who said on the campaign page she was herself a "survivor of domestic violence and abuse."

Her statement added: "I know how many women around the world are suffering right now thinking that they are lucky to be alive when poor Reeva Steenkamp is dead.

"Paddy Power are putting all survivors and the families of those who died through even more pain and anguish and they must stop."

Holly Dustin, director of End Violence Against Women, told the UK's Press Association of her disgust at the ad campaign. "They are making a game out of murder and the brutal killing of a young woman, which is unacceptable," she said.

"It is not just that this is a bit sick -- it also actually contributes to a culture in which violence against women is trivialized or made into a bit of a joke."

Read: Witness heard 'bloodcurdling screams'

There has also been condemnation from lawmakers, with Yvette Cooper, the opposition Labour Party's Shadow Home Secretary, taking to Twitter say it was "sick and shameful" to run bets on the trial.

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Paddy Power, which has its head office in Ireland but is regulated in the UK, told CNN that it would not be withdrawing the offer.

"We are not planning to take down our betting on the Pistorius trial verdict," a spokesperson said Monday. "We have a long history of offering odds on major global news events and the Oscar Pistorius trial is no different.

"The world will be watching this trial on dedicated media channels offering rolling coverage and speculating on the verdict across social media.

"We are simply offering betting on the outcome of the trial -- this is nothing new when it comes to high-profile court cases."

Paddy Power has boosted its profile and profits with a series of irreverent campaigns, using social media to spread its message.

When U.S. President Barack Obama visited Dublin in May 2011, the bookmaker renamed some its shops "O'Bama Power," while last July it dressed up four large men in nappies to go around London to publicize its odds on the royal baby ahead of Prince George's birth.

But its sponsorship of Dennis Rodman's "basketball diplomacy" in North Korea last year was shelved in December after a brutal crackdown by the country's leader Kim Jong-Un on political rivals.

Pistorius pleaded not guilty to the murder of Steenkamp and several weapons-related charges on the first day of his trial.

He has achieved world wide fame for his track and field feats, winning six Paralympic gold medals as well as becoming the first double amputee to compete in the Olympics, running for South Africa in the Summer Games in London in 2012.

Pistorius earned his nickname the "Blade Runner" because of the special prostheses he uses while running in events from the 100m to his specialist 400m.

Read: South Africa gears up for trial of the century

Read: Rodman to North Korea for 'basketball diplomacy'

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