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Cricket News & Views

Woolmer: Foggy verdict

THE Jamaican inquest jury’s inability to decide whether Bob Woolmer died of natural causes or not brought the curtain down on another unsatisfactory episode in Kingston. The coroner’s investigation had seemed thorough enough, but some of the evidence proved confusing, despite compelling evidence from the police.

After 31 days of testimony from 57 witnesses an open verdict was reached, not the conclusion expected to be drawn from Woolmer’s death in his hotel room after Pakistan’s shock defeat by Ireland at Sabina in the World Cup last March. 

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The government pathologist’s opinion four days later that the Englishman had been strangled – and poisoned, he later asserted – set off a three-month murder hunt until a raft of experts started casting doubts on the killer premise. They pointed to natural causes from chronic ill-health, definitely not strangulation. There was conflicting evidence of poisoning by cypermethrin pesticide, so much so that the coroner Patrick Murphy ordered re-analysis of all samples from the body.

At the inquest the Jamaican director of public prosecutions, Kent Pantry, marshalled the evidence on behalf of the coroner, assisted by deputy director Dirk Harrison and crown attorney Tanya Spence. The International Cricket Council were represented by Germane Spence and Kadiean Francis, of the law firm Dunn Cox.

The reason for the ICC interest at the inquest was explained by their statement issued from Dubai today: “It is a matter of great sadness for everyone within the cricket community around the world who knew and respected Bob as a fine player and, more recently, as a great coach. Our thoughts remain with his family and friends who are still grieving their loss.
 
“It is important to note that, following an exhaustive police investigation, no credible evidence has been produced to prove that there was any foul play connected to Bob’s death. Also, no motive or suspect for any crime to do with his death has been established while three expert and independent forensic pathologists told the court that Bob most likely died from natural causes related to heart disease.
 
“It should also be noted that extensive investigations by the Jamaican Constabulary Force and the ICC’s Anti-Corruption and Security Unit found no evidence of match-fixing or corruption of any kind related in this case. As has been the case throughout this matter, the ICC will continue to lend any assistance it can to the Jamaican police should it be required to do so.”

Jamaica’s deputy police commissioner Mark Shields, a former member of Britain's Scotland Yard, told the inquest he was convinced that Woolmer had not been strangled. “After considering all the evidence, having dialogue and consultation with my colleagues and looking around at Mr Woolmer's room, it was clear to me that Mr Woolmer was very sick and died of complications,” he said. The jury understandably must have considered him poorly qualified, as a non-medic, to form such an opinion.

That police investigation produced no leads or suspects and it ended abruptly on June 12 after three independent pathologists expressed opinion that Woolmer had died of natural causes, possibly a heart attack. The government pathologist Ere Sheshiah stood by his murder conclusion, and Shields commented that the pathology laboratory needed updating.

An independent analyst supported the view of the British forensic scientist John Slaughter, another person unable to find cypermethrin in blood samples, but their opinion contrasted with other witnesses, including Fitzmore Coates, the acting chief forensic officer at the Jamaican federal laboratory, who said there was so much potentially deadly cypermethrin in Woolmer's system that it could have caused his death. The quality of Coates’ samples was queried.

Shields said that the other experts, apart from Sheshiah, had been consulted -- foreign pathologists Nathaniel Cary (Britain), Michael Pollanen (Canada), and Lorna Martin (South Africa). He told the inquest that Justice Clarence Walker, a retired High Court judge and Glen Andrade, a former director of public prosecutions, were taken into confidence.

Pantry asked Shields whether all those involved in the investigations were aware of the presence of cypermethrin, a synthetic compound primarily used an insecticide. Shields said that they knew of his May 10 meeting with the Metropolitan Police, after which he informed Judith Mowatt of the government forensic laboratory that tests conducted in London showed no signs of pesticide.
The Jamaica police decided to concur with the independent analysis of Cary, Pollanen and Martin, and announced that Woolmer died of natural causes.

However, Kingston jury could not agree with certainty.

Posted by Charlie Randall
29/11/2007 19:36:48

Kingston poison views conflict

FORENSIC analysts have been giving dissenting evidence at the Bob Woolmer inquest in Kingston after the Jamaican government pathologist said he had received a laboratory report stating that traces of the pesticide cypermethrin had been found in Woolmer’s blood.

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A British scientist, John Slaughter, suggested to the coroner's court that blood samples could have been contaminated at the government forensic laboratory. Michael Best, a Barbadian pathologist, testified to finding traces of cypermethrin, but Marcia Dunbar, a government analyst in Kingston, stated that traces had been found in only one of three blood samples.

Dunbar said that one of the containers she received from the police containing the samples could have been contaminated. Slaughter put forward the same explanation, adding that, unlike the test results from Jamaica and Barbados, he found no pesticide in the sample which was tested in his laboratory on May 4.
 
Ere Sheshiah, the pathologist who performed the original post-mortem examination and received the pesticide report, had come under criticism for not following accepted international practices, but he stuck to his belief that Woolmer, Pakistan’s coach, had been strangled and poisoned. He was asked by Jermaine Spence, the attorney representing the International Cricket Council, why should anyone accept his findings that death had been caused by asphyxia and pesticide poisoning. “I have already told the court of my opinion, so I am not deviating,” Sheshiah replied.

Sheshiah originally said Woolmer's hyoid bone was fractured, which suggested the Englishman had been strangled. When shown an X-ray, he admitted he made a mistake, but insisted the hyoid bone in a 58-year-old man did not have to be broken to prove he was strangled. Three expert pathologists from overseas ruled out strangulation from looking at photographs of the corpse.

Sheshiah said: “The person who examines the bone can say whether it's broken, not somebody who analyses a photo,” he said. “My final opinion is it was asphyxia, associated with cypermethrin poisoning.”

Dunbar, 26, said there were traces of the tranquiliser chlorpromazine in samples from Woolmer's stomach and that his body had some alcohol in its system. She said that an analysis of bile samples did not reveal the presence of dangerous drugs and toxins. Some urine samples allegedly taken from Woolmer's body revealed the presence of cypermethrin, which gave rise to poisoning suspicion.

Evidence from the examination and analysis of other exhibits, including items such as the sink basin pipe in Woolmer's hotel room, where he was found dead in March, and beverages found there, showed no sign of cypermethrin.

One unexpected incident was related to the inquest on Tuesday by a member of the Sabina Park cricket ground staff, who recalled seeing Woolmer counting a bundle of US dollar notes in the Pakistan dressing room in the presence of another man she claimed looked Indian on the day before the opening World Cup match against the West Indies.

Patricia Baker-Sinclair could not recall any details of the men’s conversation, as they spoke in a language she did not understand. “I knocked on the door of the Pakistan changing room and was asked to identify myself, which I did,” she said. “I was then told to enter. On entering, I recalled Woolmer checking a thick coil of US currency in front of the Indian man, who was in a jacket suit.
He was putting it into one of the big blue and black cricket bags that the cricketers carry their bats in.”

Then in a dramatic twist on Wednesday the coroner’s court was told Baker-Sinclair was refusing to testify any further, saying she had received telephone threats from members of the Indian community. Coroner Patrick Murphy read a letter and said: “She was told that Indians can be dangerous and they could burn her house.”

The inquest is expected to end on Nov 9.

CHARLIE SAYS: It is not uncommon for cricket management to carry bundles of cash around in foreign countries to pay off a host of services and favours, from transport to cleaning and odd jobs, including gratuities.

Posted by Charlie Randall
01/11/2007 17:12:51

Late report: Woolmer poisoned

THE government pathologist who carried out the autopsy on Bob Woolmer in Jamaica still reckons the Englishman was murdered through poison and strangulation. Dr Ere Shesiah said he received a toxology report in June after the murder theory had been abandoned by the police.

 “I stand by my findings that Mr Woolmer was strangled and, based upon additional information which I received, he was also poisoned,” he said. The substance used, he told the coroner’s inquest in Kingston, was cypermethrin which caused “salivation, vomiting, diarrhoea and muscular incoordination”. He said this may have explained the disarray in Woolmer's hotel room when he was found after Pakistan’s defeat by Ireland in the World Cup.

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Three pathologists from South Africa, the UK and Canada testified Woolmer died of natural causes, probably related to heart disease. The procedures used by Dr Shesiah were criticised, but he said he used the correct methods to carry out the post mortem. He claimed the police rushed him to make his final conclusion.

Shesiah said cypermethrin was a pesticide used frequently in countries including the United Kingdom, China, Pakistan, India, and Bangladesh.

CHARLIE SAYS: The delayed toxology report explains why the pathologist did not mentioned poisoning publicly at the time, but extensive police investigation failed to establish any suspects when the death was treated as murder. 

Posted by Charlie Randall
25/10/2007 17:03:57

Woolmer policeman has dengue

THE British police officer in charge of the Bob Woolmer ‘murder’ investigation in Jamaica earlier this year has been laid low with dengue fever.

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It emerged at the Woolmer inquest in Kingston that Deputy Commissioner Mark Shields had fallen ill, but was expected to be fit enough to testify at some stage. The same was said of the original pathologist Dr Ere Seshiah, who suffered a mild stroke. His misdirection as death by strangulation triggered a fruitless police investigation that lasted almost three months.

The inquest heard that several attempts were made to save Woolmer’s life after he was found lying unconscious naked in the bathroom of his hotel room on the morning of March 18. Novlette Robinson, a registered nurse, said when she rushed to the Englishman’s room she was surprised not to see him on his bed. Before entering the bathroom, she said blood stains were seen on the bed.

She said she made her way into the bathroom, which first proved difficult because Woolmer's body was blocking the door. “The first thing I felt for was the pulse, but there was none; then there was no response from the chest,” she told coroner Patrick Murphy and the 11-member jury.

She said she administered CPR and chest compression without success, and said that Dr Asher Cooper arrived shortly after and he too administered CPR, this again failed. She added that the ambulance did not arrive at the hotel until about 11:40am, almost one hour after she entered Woolmer's room. The Pakistan coach was pronounced dead at the University Hospital of the West Indies in Kingston.

There was an apparent contradiction made by Dr Herb Elliott in a television interview on Tuesday. He claimed that when he entered the room, the Pakistan coach was still alive. He is due to testify later at the inquest.

Dr Cooper said the awkward position of the body initially prevented him from carrying out his usual resuscitation measures. "When I went to the room, Woolmer's head was under the toilet bowl and I could not do resuscitating exercises. I was only able to take pictures with my cellular phone camera, which I gave to the police."

Doctor Simone French, who attended to Woolmer on his arrival at the hospital, said further efforts were made to revive him before he was declared dead.

"Pictures taken by detective constable Dennis Forbes, who also testified, showed Woolmer lying on a stretcher at the hospital with blood on his body. His face was stained with blood, and there was purplish discoloration on his left side. There was also a red mark on the left hip that looked in the photograph like a slash.

Posted by Charlie Randall
20/10/2007 19:05:06

British view rules out murder

A BRITISH pathologist told a Jamaican coroner’s inquest this week that in his view ill-health, and not foul play, was responsible for Bob Woolmer’s sudden death in his hotel room during the World Cup last March.

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Dr Nathaniel Carey, a Metropolitan Police consultant, told a jury in Kingston that he would cite heart disease if this were a routine autopsy. He said the enlarged condition of the heart, fluid in lungs and blood on a pillow were all signs of death from natural causes,

Judging by photographs of the body, Dr Carey said he saw no signs of foul play, an opinion contradicting the original pathologist’s report after Woolmer, 58, had been found dead at the Pegasus Hotel.
 
It was known at the time that Woolmer, already a diabetic, suffered from stress, presumably worsened by the shock defeat for his Pakistan team against Ireland at Sabina Park earlier in the day. Jamaican police launched a murder investigation four days later when the local pathologist cited strangulation, but the case was wound up nearly three months later after pathologists in Britain, South Africa and Canada looked at photographs, most notably of the neck, and claimed death from natural causes.

According to reports from Kingston, exchanges between Dr Carey and Kent Pantry, the Jamaican director of public prosecutions, were testy at times. Pantry asked if it were possible Woolmer was suffocated by a pillow, a suggestion the pathologist dismissed as “foolish” and impossible. “I would like you not to regard my questions as foolish,” Pantry responded. “I have shown you courtesy and I would like you to show me the same.”

On the first day of the inquest Bernice Robinson, a hotel chambermaid, described how she found Woolmer's body sprawled on a blood-spattered bathroom floor, with an overturned chair in the room and blood on a pillow on the unmade bed. She said Woolmer's body was blocking the bathroom door.

Robinson said: “I started to look around the room, and I noticed there was a chair that was overturned. There was blood on the pillow and the bed. I continued looking around the room and didn't see him. And then I went into the bathroom. The door was closed, I knocked, got no response, then I tried to open the door, but I couldn't open it as something was pressing against it. She recalled a smell “like vomit and alcohol mixed together” and saw vomit on the bathroom floor.

Ere Sheshiah, the Jamaican pathologist, carried out a post-mortem two days after the death and, according to the Jamaican police, it was inconclusive. Later he regarded the death as suspicious, before claiming murder.

Woolmer’s passing caused reverberations around the cricket world. He was remembered at memorial services in Cape Town, Lahore and London. One of his lasting legacies, paid for from the Bob Woolmer Fund, is to be a state-of-the-art cricket centre at Nelspruit, about 230 miles east of Johannesburg, which is due to open next year.

CHARLIE SAYS: Dr Nathaniel Carey was the pathologist who conducted the post mortem on Victoria Climbie, the eight-year old Ivory Coast child beaten and starved to death by her custodians in London. At the public inquiry that followed the murder trial in 2001 Dr Carey said: “All non-accidental injuries to children are awful and difficult for everybody to deal with. In terms of the nature and extent of the injury and the almost systematic nature of the inflicted injury, I certainly regard this as the worst I have ever dealt with.”  Victoria’s great aunt Marie-Therese Kouao and Carl Manning, her boyfriend, were jailed for life.

Posted by Charlie Randall
18/10/2007 17:31:17

Brian Lara set for Edgbaston

BRIAN Lara makes a return to a big stage when he plays for Warwickshire’s “Greatest Ever XI” in a 20-overs afternoon match against a PCA XI at Edgbaston on Friday as part of the club’s 125th anniversary celebrations.

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Leaving aside that this cannot be a “greatest” team in view of the non-selection of old timers such as Dennis Amiss and MJK Smith, the game should certainly be a heart-warming occasion, evoking memories of Warwickshire’s treble year of 1994. Dermot Reeve picks up the reins as captain again, though everyone will be all too aware that the coach of that era, Bob Woolmer, will be missing. The inquest of his sudden death in Jamaica has been arranged for Oct 16 in Kingston, where more than 50 witnesses are due to give evidence.

Lara is likely to play in the maverick Indian Cricket League in October and would appreciate some practice and some partying. There has been an exhibition of the West Indian’s memorabilia on display at Lord’s, including various record-breaking bats, and a biography by the author Brian Scovell has been published recently.

The PCA have recruited Ian Harvey, Derbyshire’s Australian player still kicking his heels since failing to gain his UK passport earlier this season.

Edgbaston 20-overs (Fri, Aug 31, start 2.30pm)

Warwickshire Greatest Ever XI: Dermot Reeve (capt), Nick Knight, Brian Lara, Dominic Ostler, Asif Din, Paul Smith, Neil Smith, Dougie Brown, Keith Piper (wkt), Allan Donald, Tim Munton, Gladstone Small.

PCA Masters XI : Warren Hegg, Kim Barnett, Sherwin Campbell, Matt Maynard, Jason Ratcliffe, Ian Harvey, Chris Lewis, Martin McCague, Martin Bicknell, Peter Such, Joey Benjamin.

Umpires: Ken Horden & Jonathon Cousins.

Posted by Charlie Randall
29/08/2007 13:53:32

Woolmer police had no choice

A LINE was drawn under the Bob Woolmer case by Lucius Thomas, commissioner of the Jamaica Constabulary Force, in Kingston at 11am Jamaica time. The Englishman had not been strangled or poisoned in his room at the Pegasus Hotel on March 18; he died of natural causes, presumably heart failure.

When the terrible news of Woolmer’s death first broke, a few pundits, including Mark Nicholas, urged the World Cup to be called off after such a crime. Imagine the tournament being abandoned. Now the cry would go up: “OK, chaps, everybody back.” 
 

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The misery caused by the incompetent pathologist in Kingston knows no bounds. One has to feel sympathy for the police. They had no choice; they simply had to follow up a report assuming murder by strangulation. Few facts seemed to fit, and there was no motive, unless one could be invented.

Commissioner Thomas said today the police had undertaken a “thoroughly professional investigation where nothing was left to chance”, and he concluded: “Neither the ICC nor the Jamaica Constabulary Force have found any evidence of any impropriety by players, match officials nor management during the investigation of Woolmer's death.”

Mark Shields, the deputy commissioner leading the investigation, said: “This was an extraordinary case. All we could do was look at what we had and seek help from elsewhere, which is what we did. Murder investigations are not like TV series, where everything is wrapped up in 45 minutes. All we could do was conduct a thorough investigation and not rush.”
 
Detectives from Scotland Yard and Pakistan were brought in to review the investigation, according to the police. They interviewed nearly 400 people and took almost 250 statements. All for nothing, as it turned out.

Posted by Charlie Randall
12/06/2007 20:44:38

Woolmer conclusion in sight

THE Jamaican police are to announce imminently that Bob Woolmer died of natural causes to end a three-month episode that has brought the best and the worst out of the media.

In March the government pathologist in Kingston dropped a clanger in his post-mortem, when he pronounced after significant hesitation that the Pakistan coach had been strangled – murdered in his room at the Pegasus Hotel. This triggered a theatre of the absurd as journalists attempted to make sense of events from a false premise.

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The Bollywood director Mahesh Bhatt is to include the Woolmer ‘murder’ in a love story due to be shot in August. But an eminent 58 year-old coach dying alone of a heart attack does not seem especially dramatic. A couple of weeks ago Bhatt said in an India newspaper interview: “I'm definitely making the film on the entire Woolmer episode, though we will not have him anywhere in the story. We are using a fictional situation, but the people will see the obvious connection.

“The film is not just about the coach's death. It is a love story against the backdrop of cricket. There is betting, there is match fixing. And because it is a love story there has to be songs too.” Except that Woolmer was never involved in any fixing.

Despite his rapport in the Proteas coach with Hansie Cronje, South Africa’s bent captain, Woolmer utterly despised cricket corruption. That did not stop all sorts of speculation about his involvement while motives for the ‘murder’ were sought. Underworld killing? By strangulation? And in Kingston? This is a pit of a town where knives and guns are part of life.

Somehow stories were printed speculating that snake poison had been administered. There was a revelation connecting weed killer with a champagne bottle. It seemed the hapless coach might have been strangled with a towel when normal manual strangulation could be ruled out by superficial examination of the neck. Indeed the Sunday Times quickly shed serious doubts on the Kingston pathologist’s findings by showing photographs to five leading forensic experts in the UK.

The newspaper reported that all five men were struck by the fact that there was no obvious bruising. For example, a strangulation authority Bill Hunt, a former president of the British Association in Forensic Medicine, said: “It is almost impossible to strangle a fit man without a fight, and the police say there is no evidence of a struggle. It is virtually impossible to strangle somebody without leaving some marks on the neck.”

He added: “I think it unlikely there was a ligature used, as the victim would try to pull the ligature off and there would have been marks on his neck from that. If he was strangled through a cloth material, you would expect to find the pattern of the cloth on his skin.” And the other four made equally valid points that cast serious doubts on the whole murder concept.

Nobody could seriously believe that any Pakistan player was involved, despite close police attention to DNA samples and questioning. When the Ireland players had to give samples, this was perhaps the first clue that the police were completely baffled as they stuck to their routine.

Woolmer, a diabetic, was a man with a stressful job. He talked to me about this while in India during the ICC Champions Trophy in October. He sounded like a man gradually losing his battle against tension when his two best seam-bowlers Shoaib Akhtar and Mohammad Asif were suddenly sent home for failing a drugs test. “I know when I’m under stress,” Woolmer said. “My shoulders and neck become very tight and I can feel it happen. And I haven’t felt that until this particular situation.”

He tried to be philosophical about his bewilderment as events swirled around him in Jaipur. “I’m trying to get rid of it now because it’s best to put things like this aside. There’s nothing I can do about it now, and we have to carry on with cricket,” he said, mentioning that the suspension of the captain Inzamam-ul-Haq for his part in the forfeited Oval Test – more tension -- had been a bigger loss.

The Pakistan cricket team could be demanding an apology from the Jamaican police for the suspicions generated, if the media spokesman PJ Mir is to be believed. He said in a television interview: “I will be recommending to the chairman of the board to take necessary legal action unless the Jamaican police formally apologise to the Pakistan team, to the Zimbabwean team, the Irish team and the West Indian team, who were all staying in the hotel.” He spoke as though the feelings of the players was the most important part of Woolmer’s sad passing.

Posted by Charlie Randall
11/06/2007 16:05:15

Woolmer Mystery Deepens

NEW theories are circulating in Jamaica on how Bob Woolmer met his death after the police disclosed today that fabric had been used to strangle the Englishman in his hotel room on the 12th floor of the Pegasus Hotel in Kingston.

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Mark Shields, Jamaica’s Deputy Commissioner of Police, released this information to explain why no external marks were found on his neck while confirming the case was “categorically” murder. He said: “If it’s some form of manual strangulation and there are no physical marks on the neck of the victim, therefore there may have been something between the hands of the assailant and the neck of the victim. That is as far as I will go.” He refused to comment on whether a towel had been used.

If a towel had been used to kill the Pakistan coach the night following his team’s defeat by Ireland, this would suggest a planned assault, perhaps carried out by more than one person.

The Sun is reporting that Woolmer had a blazing row with an alleged Indian bookmaker and threw him out of his room. His unwanted guest was apparently visiting Jamaica with the brother of a man suspected by Indian police of al Qaeda activity.

Posted by Charlie Randall
29/03/2007 23:01:21

Shields Appeals For Restraint

THE Bob Woolmer murder hunt has switched to three Pakistan supporters often seen with the players during the World Cup group matches in Kingston. The men, no longer in Jamaica, were being sought to eliminate them from inquiries.

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Though this news seemed to take inquiries a significant step further, Mark Shields, the deputy commissioner leading the Jamaican police investigation, made an impassioned plea for media restraint. He said last night: “The reality, as I've said before, is that there are many potential suspects in this investigation and even more potential witnesses, and we are nowhere near the stage of being able to start naming names in terms of suspects.”

The three Pakistani men the police wished to contact were well known within the playing camp, and one of them was believed to live in Britain. The other two were resident in the United States. There were unsubstantiated rumours that CCTV pictures in the Pegasus Hotel had shown two unknown figures on the 12th floor during the night of the Pakistan coach’s death, though the images were of poor quality and would require electronic enhancing.

Woolmer’s strangled body was found in his room at 10.45am on Sunday, March 18, the day after the shock defeat by Ireland, which knocked Pakistan out of the tournament. The management disclosed that Woolmer submitted his resignation as coach by email after the game.

Media speculation that this Englishman of integrity had somehow been caught up in match corruption was always difficult to sustain, though there might have been some infuriated losing gamblers or even deranged individuals willing to kill for ‘honour’. There was suspicion that it would have needed two or more men to have overwhelmed the powerful physique of their victim. 

Posted by Charlie Randall
27/03/2007 02:38:52
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