London, March 22: Now that the death of Bob Woolmer has turned into a Agatha Christie-style “who dunnit'”, crime experts are examining the use of the word, “suspicious”, by Mark Shields, Jamaica’s deputy commissioner of police.
The passing of the former Kent and England cricketer has been especially keenly felt in Britain.
Initially, everyone had assumed that Woolmer, aged 58, and with a history of diabetes, had died from a heart attack, triggered possibly by the stress of the Pakistan team’s shock defeat to Ireland.
But the words used by Shields has had the effect of exploding a hand grenade.
What exactly did Shields mean when he stated that the pathologist’s report was “inconclusive” and “there is now sufficient information to continue a full investigation into the circumstances surrounding the death, which we are now treating as suspicious”'
Police in Britain use the word as a euphemism when death has not occurred due to natural causes. Often, it is code for murder.
The context is all-important, but if it is thought to be a case of suicide, a police spokesman will say something like: “We are not looking for anyone else in connection with this death.”
With suicide, an unattributable source might toss in the phrase, “a suspected drugs overdose”.
Shields happens to be a former senior Scotland Yard officer, on transfer to Jamaica, so it has to be assumed he picked his words with great care.
Asked whether he was now heading a murder inquiry, he replied: “No, we are not saying that.”
He added: “It’s the old adage – we have to keep an open mind.”
Reports from Jamaica in British newspapers suggest that the police are not convinced that Woolmer died from natural causes.
The Times, for example, reported today that police have seized CCTV footage from the hotel in Jamaica where Woolmer was staying.
“Woolmer’s room on the twelfth floor at the Pegasus Hotel in Kingston, in which he was found unconscious and sprawled across the floor on Sunday, was still sealed off last night as forensics experts hunted for clues. Sources close to the investigation confirmed that security tapes showing the area outside his room are being examined to determine who might have visited before he was discovered by a maid at about 10.45 am.”
It is hard to know what importance to attach to information supplied by Rohan Powell, a reporter with TVJ Jamaica, who told the paper: “I was informed that the police will reveal that the cause of death was strangulation. I am unable to say who gave me the information as obviously I had to guard my source — but that’s what I’ve been told and my source is very reliable. I am also informed that there were marks on the body and there are pictures around.”
But late tonight Sky TV reported that Woolmer broke a bone in his throat while vomiting. The unsourced report said Woolmer suffered the injury after falling against a toilet bowl.
Woolmer’s widow, Gill, who has decided not to travel to Jamaica from her home in South Africa to retrieve her husband’s body, did not suggest the possibility of foul play in her initial interviews with journalists. She had even remarked: “No, I don’t see any conspiracy in his death.”
She has now decided to keep that possibility open. “But there is no way that suicide was involved, he would never, ever. He didn’t take drugs unless it was a painkiller for his sore knees and ankles.”
She said she had been given “some indication” of why police thought her husband’s death was suspicious but did not reveal what it was. “The second pathologist’s test should be available and as soon as we get that, the investigation will be winding down and they will be able to send his body back to South Africa.”
She told the Times in a separate call that her husband was “really depressed and that he could not believe how Pakistan’s defeat to Ireland had happened”, but that reports he had been drinking heavily and was on prescribed drugs for his type 2 diabetes were “rubbish”. He had not received any threats and had had no contact with anybody wanting to involve him in match-fixing or with bookmakers, she added.
“The Pakistan team’s poor performance affected him as much as any other big tournament that he lost as coach of South Africa. He believed that what happened was in the past and one had to move on,” she said.