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Woolmer inquest concludes

A Jamaican jury was unable to determine the cause of death after hearing testimony from more than 50 people.

cricket Updated: Nov 29, 2007 21:48 IST

An inquest into the death of Pakistan cricket coach Bob Woolmer ended in indecision on Wednesday evening, when a Jamaican jury was unable to determine the cause of death after hearing testimony from more than 50 people over five weeks.

The 11-member panel deliberated for about four hours before returning an "open" verdict, which means jurors decided they had not heard sufficient evidence to declare Bob Woolmer's death an accident, a homicide or the result of natural causes. The jury foreman, who refused to give his name to reporters to protect his privacy, said the panel felt there were too many contradictions to reach a clear conclusion.

"We came to an open verdict because the evidence presented to us was very weak. There were too many what-ifs and too many loopholes," he said shortly after the panel ended its deliberations early Wednesday evening.

The jury, which heard witnesses and medical experts testify over five weeks, was expected to decide whether anyone was responsible for Woolmer's death.

Deputy Police Commissioner Mark Shields, a former Scotland Yard investigator who led the murder probe for three months until foreign pathologists concluded Woolmer died from natural causes, said authorities were satisfied with the jury's decision. "The police have no plans to pursue the case further right now," Shields told a local radio station.

According to police it will now be up to Jamaica's coroner, Patrick Murphy, to decide the cause of death. He did not speak to reporters after closing the inquest.

Jermaine Spence, an attorney who represented the International Cricket Council at the inquest, also did not speak to reporters. However, the ICC said in a statement there was no credible evidence that proved "there was any foul play connected to Bob's death" or any links to match-fixing and corruption. "Also, no motive or suspect for any crime to do with his death has been established while three expert and independent forensic pathologists told the court that Bob most likely died from natural causes related to heart disease," the statement said. "Our thoughts remain with his family and friends who are still grieving their loss."

The inquest in the Jamaican capital was triggered by wide-ranging speculation about what killed the 58-year-old coach, who was found unconscious in his Kingston hotel room a day after his heavily favored team was ousted from the Cricket World Cup on March 17. Four days after Woolmer died at a hospital, Jamaica's pathologist, Dr. Ere Sheshiah, ruled he had been strangled, launching a probe that took DNA and fingerprint samples from witnesses including players from Pakistan and other cricket squads.

But Jamaican police called off the investigation three months later, saying three independent pathologists from Britain, South Africa and Canada concluded that the coach most likely died from heart disease.

In his testimony at the inquest, Sheshiah stood by his contention that Woolmer had been strangled and said he had also been poisoned by a pesticide.

Specialists outside the government claimed Sheshiah misinterpreted his own findings and his medical techniques did not meet international standards. Independent tests on Woolmer's stomach samples found no traces of the pesticide cypermethrin.

When asked about the jurors' take on the contradictory toxicology findings, the jury foreman said that days of detailed testimony about chemical tests was "a little too technical" for the panel and "was not significant enough to make it a major factor in our decision."

He said jurors believed the independent foreign specialists who concluded Woolmer died from natural causes and criticized Sheshiah's findings were hamstrung by examining second-hand forensic tests. "They were in an unfair situation because they were ... not given all the information on the total picture," the jury foreman said.

First Published: Nov 29, 2007 18:07 IST