London, Jan. 19: Police in Cambridge are investigating an allegation of assault against Professor Stephen Hawking, the 62-year-old wheelchair-bound author of the best-selling A Brief History of Time.
A police spokesperson in Cambridge was remarkably brief when asked to comment on whether Hawking had been assaulted.
“All we can say on the record is that police are investigating an allegation of assault against a 62-year-old man from Cambridge,” she said.
Such arcane use of language could suggest that the police believe the allegation might involve a domestic quarrel. Asked whether an allegation of assault was also made last year, she confirmed: “I have heard that.”
It is understood that on this occasion, the police want to talk to Hawking about several minor injuries he is said to have suffered recently.
Hawking, one of the world’s best known astrophysicists and Lucasian professor of mathematics at Cambridge since 1979, has been confined to a wheelchair since the age of 21 with motor neurone disease, a muscle-wasting condition. Despite being able to speak only through a computerised voice synthesiser — or possibly because of it — he has become a cult figure since the 1988 publication of A Brief History of Time.
The book, which examined the origin of the universe, has been translated into 30 languages and sold more than 25 million copies. He has had cameo roles in Star Trek and The Simpsons, the cartoon series.
According to today’s Daily Mirror, Hawking’s three children fear he might be the victim of someone suffering from Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy, a disease where sufferers harm others to draw attention to themselves.
“The family are worried sick,” an unnamed source told the newspaper. “They’ve been suspicious for some time that someone has been harming Stephen.”
Last summer, nursing staff contacted the police after Hawking was left stranded in his wheelchair in the garden of his home on the hottest day of the year and suffered severe heatstroke and sunburn, the Mirror said.
Hawking’s love life has been of endless fascination to the media, which have asked the question “Why'” and “How'”
In 1990, he left Jane, his wife of 30 years, to move in with Elaine Mason, one of his nurses. Her former husband had developed Hawking’s voice synthesiser.
Five years later, they married.
Last year, when the police were alerted to a series of mysterious injuries sustained by Hawking, he refused to make a statement and the matter was dropped.
In 1999, his former wife published Music To Move The Stars: My Life with Stephen, in which she listed the reality of being married to someone who needed constant care while she also looked after a young family (Hawking has three children and a grandchild); of how her Christian faith clashed with his atheism; of how she felt increasingly marginalised as his international fame grew after the publication of A Brief History of Time.
“Outside the marriage, and apart from Stephen, I was nothing,” she complained.
In the 610-page epic, Jane Hawking called her ex-husband an “all-powerful emperor” and a “masterly puppeteer”. She wrote: “It was becoming very difficult — unnatural, even — to feel desire for someone with the body of a Holocaust victim and the undeniable needs of an infant.”
“A brittle, empty shell, alone and vulnerable, restrained only by the thought of my children from throwing myself into the river, drowning in a slough of despond, I prayed for help with the desperate insistency of a potential suicide,” she added.
“I couldn’t go off and leave Stephen. Coals of fire would have been heaped on my head if I had.”
But desperate for emotional and physical fulfilment, she began an affair in 1985 with a family friend, musician Jonathan Hellyer-Jones, whom she had met in 1977 after joining a local choir. Her husband, she claims, gave tacit sanction to the relationship; the pair married in 1996.
Laura Gentry, who helped transcribe Brief History, defended the professor. She said: “Hearing him described as a cruel, scheming man really upsets me.”
Gentry claimed that in 1985, when the scientist was suffering from pneumonia, Jane Hawking, who was already involved with Hellyer-Jones, contemplated switching off her husband’s life-support machine.
Hawking’s peers in the world of physics have reservations about him.
However, Bernard Carr, a friend of Hawking’s and professor of astronomy at Queen Mary College, London, commented: “The fact is he is a great physicist. To say he’s the greatest since Einstein is an exaggeration, but he’s a cult figure with the public, and that has to be good for the subject.”