It wasn't murder, after all


After three months, acres of newsprint and rampant speculation, it is now established that Bob Woolmer, an overweight man in his 60s with diabetes and heart problems, had suffered what perhaps was always a far more likely fate: death by natural causes, write Sandra Laville and Omar Waraich.

The case of the cricket coach, the hotel room and the broken hyoid bone finally ended on June 12 with the prosaic admission by the Jamaican police that Bob Woolmer was not murdered. All talk of match-fixing, poison, and killers waiting in the shadows was dismissed by Lucius Thomas, the Jamaican police commissioner, and Mark Shields, the British police officer who is his deputy.

After three months, acres of newsprint and rampant speculation, Mr. Thomas announced that Woolmer, an overweight man in his 60s with diabetes and heart problems, had suffered what perhaps was always a far more likely fate: death by natural causes.

But none of the men responsible for launching the costly murder inquiry, involving scores of police officers taking hundreds of statements, DNA samples and fingerprints, resigned from their posts. Neither Mr. Thomas nor Mr. Shields would concede that the affair had been embarrassing for the Jamaican police service. "I don't know what is embarrassing about it," said Mr. Thomas.

But Inzamam-ul-Haq, the Pakistan cricket captain during the World Cup, condemned the Jamaican police's handling of Woolmer's death. Inzamam, who was questioned at length by the police investigating what they thought was murder, said: "We were convinced from the start that it was a natural death. I feel that the Jamaican police and the doctors misrepresented the investigation. At an international level in cricket this should never have happened.

"It's not a matter of me wanting an apology. Nothing could diminish the tension and hassle I suffered."

Woolmer was found dead in his hotel room by a chambermaid on March 18, the day after his team were knocked out of the cricket World Cup by Ireland in the biggest shock of the tournament's history.

Mr. Shields, the London Metropolitan Police officer on long-term secondment to the Jamaica force, who led the inquiry, said it was not the police's job to publicly second-guess the written findings of a pathologist, in this case that of Dr. Ere Seshaiah, the government pathologist who stated that Woolmer had been strangled on the evidence that the hyoid bone in his neck was broken.

Mr. Shields admitted that it was he who had stated early on he was "100% sure" that Woolmer had been murdered because there was evidence in the hotel room pointing to that conclusion. But he said that was no reason for him to step down.

"I would ask why?" he said. "We conducted a thorough, professional investigation. We were given facts in the beginning, which we took at face value. We had to conduct an investigation. We cannot publicly second-guess a pathologist and his opinion, our job is to investigate."

Asked to account for his comments about the compelling evidence in the room, he said he was referring to a pillow in the room which could have been used during the strangulation and would have accounted for the fact there were no marks on Woolmer's neck. Other evidence found included a pool of vomit.

Mr. Shields said the fact that the Jamaican police set up a review by London police officers and called in second and third opinions from the British Home Office pathologist Dr. Nat Carey and two other experts showed they were being thorough.

Although the pathologists involved did not conduct a second post mortem examination, digital photographs and X-rays of the first analysis and the hyoid bone in question were sent to Dr. Carey and the other experts. "They all formed the opinion that the bone was not fractured," Mr. Shields said. "We have stated that his (Dr. Seshaiah's) report was incorrect."

Asked if it would not have been better to keep the initial findings private until further investigations were made, he said in an ideal world that might have been so. "But I had to consider the circumstances ... every step of the inquiry became the subject of media speculation."

The decision to reveal the findings of the pathologist's report was a "collective" one. He added that withholding the information would undoubtedly have led to accusations of a cover-up.

Mr. Thomas said his officers had investigated allegations that match-fixing had been at play, and found no evidence. There was also no evidence that Mr. Woolmer had been poisoned. After releasing Dr. Seshaiah's findings — that Mr. Woolmer had been asphyxiated by strangulation — police launched a murder inquiry. But behind the scenes they sent the results to Dr. Carey in the UK, and two other experts, one in South Africa and one in Canada, all of whom disputed the findings and said the death was as a result of natural causes.

Dr. Seshaiah was not available for comment. An aide in his office in Kingston said: "Dr. Seshaiah is not here, he is carrying out a post mortem at the moment. We don't know whether he wants to say anything or not."

Neither Mr. Shields nor Mr. Thomas would comment on Dr. Seshaiah's credibility. They referred all questions to Gilbert Scott, permanent secretary in Jamaica's department for national security. Mr Scott was contacted but made no comment.

In South Africa, Mr. Woolmer's wife, Gill, and her two sons, said they were relieved to learn that no foul play had been involved. Mrs. Woolmer thanked the Jamaican police and Mr. Shields in person for the way they had treated her family and asked to be allowed to grieve.

(Additional reporting by Ross Sheil in Kingston)

� Guardian Newspapers Limited 2007