KINGSTON: Former Pakistan cricket coach Bob Woolmer died of natural causes, and was not murdered as initially suspected, Jamaican police said on 12 June, bringing to an embarrassing close a three-month investigation that had gripped the cricket world.
Woolmer was found unconscious in his hotel room in Kingston on March 18 after his highly rated team lost to little fancied Ireland in the Cricket World Cup. An initial postmortem found signs he had been strangled, triggering speculation he had been murdered by an irate fan or an illegal gambling syndicate.
But reports from three independent pathologists and a toxicology test showed the 58-year-old former England international cricketer had died of natural causes and had no poisons in his body, said Jamaican Police Commissioner Lucius Thomas.
“The JCF (Jamaica Constabulary Force) has accepted these findings and has closed its investigation into the death of Bob Woolmer,” Thomas said, reading from a prepared statement.
The statement did not immediately clarify why Woolmer died but media reports have referred to his ill health and speculated that he suffered from diabetes.
In South Africa, Woolmer’s widow thanked the Jamaican police for the way they conducted the investigation in the face of intense media scrutiny.
“My sons and I are relieved to be officially informed that Bob died of natural causes and that no foul play is suspected in his death,” Gill Woolmer said in a statement.
“We hope that this matter will now be closed and that our family will be left to grieve in peace.”
WHO TO BLAME?
Thomas said the Jamaican police had always kept an open mind with regard to the murder suspicions, and had carried out an extensive investigation including taking 350 statements from people and seeking help from British and Pakistani police.
He appeared to put the blame squarely for the original declaration that Woolmer had been murdered on pathologist Ere Seshaiah, who found signs that the cricket coach had been asphyxiated through manual strangulation.
“The investigation team’s strategy was based on the assumption that if Bob Woolmer was murdered, it was critical to identify, locate and interview as many people who were closest to him at the time of his death,” Thomas said.
But the sudden about-face was likely to embarrass the police force in the Caribbean country, and in particular the lead investigator, Deputy Commissioner of Police Mark Shields, a former Scotland Yard officer who has come under criticism from colleagues in recent weeks.
Immediately after the initial autopsy findings that Woolmer died of strangulation, Shields said repeatedly that he was conducting a murder investigation and searching for Woolmer’s killer or killers.
Shields said on 12 June he accepted the conclusion that Woolmer had died of natural causes.
Pakistan’s cricket board said it was relieved that a period of stress and tension for Pakistani cricket was finally over.
“It has been a traumatic period for all of us because of the unnecessary delay in resolving the cause of Woolmer’s death. But finally we are relieved it is all over now,” a spokesman for the board said.
He declined to comment on reports the board was contemplating suing for damages from the Jamaican police.
International cricket players reacted with a mix of criticism and relief.
“The way the whole affair was handled was so messy. To give the impression that someone has been murdered is a serious matter,” said South African all rounder Shaun Pollock. “It still doesn’t take away from the fact that Bob died, but at least this gives his family some closure.”
“The way the whole thing has been handled has been a great disappointment,” added South African batsman Gary Kirsten.
“Bob left a tremendous legacy in cricket, and to have to go through all this fumbling and bumbling without knowing what happened has been tough.”