Investigation closed: Woolmer died of natural causes

Updated: June 13, 2007, 7:21 PM ET news services

KINGSTON, Jamaica -- Pakistan's World Cup cricket coach died from natural causes and was not strangled as officials concluded earlier, the Jamaican police commissioner said Tuesday in announcing the closing of a homicide investigation.

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Authorities reached their conclusion about the death of Bob Woolmer after obtaining opinions from three independent pathologists from Britain, South Africa and Canada and reviewing a toxicology report, Commissioner Lucius Thomas told a news conference.

Wednesday, police in Jamaica said they were almost certain that Woolmer died of heart failure.

"Determining the cause of death is the remit of the coroner but we are 99 percent sure that Woolmer died of heart failure," said police spokesman Karl Angell.

As a result of the new results, opposition lawmaker Derrick Smith called for Jamaican pathologist Dr. Ere Seshaiah to be fired.

"He led the investigation team down a wrong path," Smith said outside parliament. "Now that we have found out that he has made an error, he should be terminated."

Seshaiah reportedly said he still believes Woolmer was strangled in his hotel room.

"I am sticking to my findings. He was murdered," Seshaiah told The Jamaica Observer.

Seshaiah, who has not responded to requests for comment from the AP, told the Observer he is confident the coach was slain.

"Woolmer is not a first for me," he said. "I have been doing autopsies here since 1995."

Security Minister Peter Phillips ordered a review of the probe into Woolmer's death to assess "standards of professionalism" shown by all medical and police investigators.

Woolmer, 58, was found unconscious in his hotel room in Kingston on March 18, a day after his team was eliminated from the World Cup in a humiliating loss to Ireland. Authorities first said a preliminary autopsy was inconclusive, but on March 22, they said Woolmer had been strangled, setting off one of the biggest murder investigations in Jamaican history.

Police questioned nearly 400 people and took DNA samples and fingerprints Pakistan team players and officials before allowing them to depart the Caribbean island. Police also took samples from potential witnesses and other World Cup cricket teams.

There was a flurry of speculation fed by media outlets around the world that match-fixers or an irate fan may have murdered the popular coach. A British TV news show said Woolmer had been poisoned before being strangled, but Thomas also dismissed this.

"No substance was found to indicate that Bob Woolmer was poisoned," he said.

Thomas said Tuesday a British pathologist reviewed the Jamaican coroner's report saying Woolmer had been strangled and came to the opposite conclusion, finding that he died from unspecified natural causes. The initial autopsy said a bone had been broken in the coach's neck, but Deputy Police Commissioner Mark Shields said the other pathologists determined that was false.

"The Jamaican Constabulary Force accepts these findings and has now closed its investigation into the death of Mr. Bob Woolmer," Thomas said.

The coach's widow, Gill Woolmer, welcomed the announcement and thanked Jamaican police.

"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," she said in a statement from their home in Cape Town, South Africa. "We hope that this matter will now be closed and that our family will be left to grieve in peace."

The Pakistan Cricket Board expressed "great satisfaction" with the resolution of the case, saying it would come as a relief to Woolmer's family, his team "and the people of Pakistan, who all have been feeling greatly distressed by the rumors that have been clouding the cricket world since this sad incident."

But former player Intikhab Alam accused Jamaican police of "mishandling" the case.

"They should not only apologize to the Pakistan Cricket Board but to the whole nation," Alam told The Associated Press. "They took DNA tests of our players, fingerprinted them and whatnot. Now they should apologize."

Imran Khan, a former captain and now a leading Pakistani politician, said he was "shocked" that Jamaican police had issued no apology.

The Pakistani players had suffered "insinuations that they had thrown the match and because the coach was going to blow the whistle, they had strangled him," Khan said on CNN.

"For one month they went through a living hell. The Pakistan team came back and literally hid from the public. The players went into depression. ... I'm afraid someone has to be answerable and someone has to be responsible for this," Khan said.

The cricket board "must ask for damages and certainly a big apology," he said.

A final report on the cause of death will be issued later by Jamaican Coroner Patrick Murphy.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this story.