OPINION

End of a distressing episode

After three months of fervid speculation about match fixing, poisoning, strangulation, and contract killing the Jamaican police have arrived at a tame conclusion: Bob Woolmer was done in by diabetes and a heart condition. The confirmation that the Pakistan cricket coach died from natural causes raises questions about why the murder and conspiracy theories enjoyed such free play. At one level, the blame lies with the media, sections of which went totally over the top in chasing the story. There were reports he was poisoned with exotic substances such as snake venom and aconite; conjectures he was killed for being about to make sensational disclosures in his autobiography; and insinuations that his life was ended by sundry people such as members of the Pakistan cricket team, bookmakers, the match-fixing mafia, irate fans, and even Al Qaeda. But the media's speculative obsession with `Woolmergate' would not have reached the levels it did had the Jamaican police not totally misled the world about the case. Unofficial leaks about such things as possible poisoning and `revealing' CCTV footage only fed the rumour mills and encouraged the conspiracy theorists. The police also bungled by hastily declaring that Woolmer's death "was being treated as murder"; Deputy Commissioner Mark Shields, the public face of the investigation, went as far as saying he was "100 per cent sure" that the 58-year-old was killed.

The reason for such certainty was the report of the government pathologist, Ere Seshaiah, which said the autopsy results showed a broken hyoid (neck) bone and that Woolmer died from manual strangulation. While the India-born Dr. Seshaiah is reportedly sticking to his findings ("it was murder"), the Jamaican police ought to have waited for the entire results of the further histology and toxicology tests and reports from three overseas forensic pathologists (which said there was no fracture of the hyoid bone) before jumping to conclusions. Jamaica's Commissioner of Police, Lucius Thomas, admitted as much when he said "we might have been too hasty." By turning investigative attention on the Pakistan cricket team and making it the focus of groundless suspicion members of the team were fingerprinted, made to provide DNA samples, and asked to delay their departure the Jamaican police traumatised not only captain Inzamam-ul-Haq's men but also the entire nation. Although they have been impeccably polite, Bob Woolmer's family members, who received his body only five weeks after his death, have reason to feel extremely distressed. The least that the Jamaican police can do is to apologise to Pakistan's cricket team, its people, and the family of its former coach for the botched investigation and the mishandling of the publicity.

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