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Gaffe leaves Booker red

London, Oct. 18 (Reuters): Organisers of Britain’s prestigious Booker Prize for literature were red-faced yesterday after they accidentally named one of the short-listed candidates as the winner.

An announcement on the prize’s official website said Canadian writer Yann Martel had won for his book Life of Pi — even though the judges have not met and are not due to do so until next Tuesday.

The 2002 winner will be officially named on Tuesday.

The leak prompted several punters to place money on Martel with bookmakers William Hill, prompting them to halt betting on the outcome of prize.

“We were baffled by the string of bets for the Martel book, several of them stakes of £100 ($155) a time, and then concerned when the book had already been announced as the winner,” William Hill spokesman Graham Sharpe said.

“We thought it might be wise at this point to close the (wagering) book pending enquiries.”

Booker Prize organisers said the announcement was an innocent mistake and stressed Martel was not necessarily the winner.

“It was just a daft, administrative error,” a spokeswoman for the award told Reuters.

“We write six press releases in advance and then release one of them when the judges make their decision.

“One of the releases was being sent to a development web site as a test but unfortunately it was accidentally sent to a site which could be seen by the public.

“It just happened to be the Martel press release as his ame is first of the six alphabetically.”

She said the erroneous announcement had only been on the website for 20 minutes before it was deleted.

Martel is competing against Rohinton Mistry (Family Matters), Carol Shields (Unless), William Trevor (The Story of Lucy Gault), Sarah Waters (Fingersmith) and Tim Winton (Dirt Music) for the £50,000 ($77,000) prize.

Established in 1968, the Booker aims to reward the best novel of the year written by a citizen of the British Commonwealth or Republic of Ireland.

Past winners of the award, which virtually guarantees a worldwide audience and a dramatic increase in book sales, include Salman Rushdie, illiam Golding and Iris Murdoch.

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