It could be a scene straight out of the mysteries of Inspector Morse, the fictional British sleuth who investigates murders among Oxford University academics. With one difference: unlike in the Morse mysteries, the suspect here is a man of Indian origin.
Devinder Sivia, a Sikh mathematics lecturer at St John’s College, was on Thursday night arrested on suspicion of murder after the body of a famous Oxford don, astrophysicist Steven Rawlings, was found battered in Sivia’s village home.
At 50, Rawlings was just a year older than Sivia. One member of the shocked Oxford community said the two were best of friends. They had collaborated on projects for a decade, taught joint courses and co-authored books.
When paramedics turned up at Sivia’s bungalow in the village of Southmoor after 11pm, they found a neighbour trying to resuscitate Rawlings. Shortly afterwards, police were seen leading Sivia away in handcuffs. Sivia was on Friday released on bail till April 18.
One newspaper speculated the two friends might have fought over an academic matter. But The Times reported Sivia had told the police he acted in self-defence.
Police said a post-mortem had proved inconclusive and more tests would be undertaken.
Rawlings, whose village was 12 km away from Sivia’s, was spearheading a £1.4-bn project known as the Square Kilometre Array to build the world’s largest and most sensitive radio telescope. Sivia specialised in an area of statistics known as Bayesian Probability Theory.
Southmoor was home to British government scientist Dr David Kelly, who committed suicide in 2003 after questioning the ‘dodgy dossier’ claim that the Iraqis could deploy biological and chemical weapons within 45 minutes of an order to use them.
Oxford University vice-chancellor Professor Andrew Hamilton said the entire university community had been saddened and shocked by Rawlings’ death.
Duncan Logan, Sivia’s neighbour, said: “They were nice, gentle, polite and hardworking people. I never heard them fight. I can’t imagine Devinder hurting anyone.”
(With agency inputs)