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Woolmer probe: Pakistan players finger-printed

Police also take statement of Pak players as the probe gets embroiled in a fevered round of speculation and denial.
None | By Joe Edwards, Kingston, Jamaica
UPDATED ON MAR 23, 2007 03:49 AM IST

Pakistan's World Cup players gave statements to Jamaican police and were also finger-printed on Thursday as the investigation into the death of Bob Woolmer became embroiled in a fevered round of speculation and denial.

The questioning comes on the same day that two Jamaican newspapers claimed that 58-year-old Woolmer, who died on Sunday, had been strangled.

That alleged cause of death follows earlier rumours of poisoning and even killing at the hands of members of the criminal underworld keen to avoid exposure in allegations of match-fixing which may have arisen in a book that Woolmer was planning to write.

"We're going through a process of speaking to people, including members of the team," said Mark Shields, the deputy chief commissioner of the Jamaican police force.

Shields added that all of the Pakistan squad have been fingerprinted before being allowed to leave for the Jamaican resort of Montego Bay later in the day, where they will stay for two days before returning home after their early elimination from the tournament.

However, the Pakistan team are furious that they are being cast in some sections of the media as prime suspects in the investigation.

"The impression is being given that the Pakistan team are suspects. This is not true," said team manager Talat Ali.

"We are being interviewed first because we are leaving for Montego Bay later this afternoon, but other people will also be interviewed by police."

Earlier, Pakistan team spokesman Pervez Mir confirmed the probe had been extended to the players, saying that police were trying to ascertain Woolmer's last movements and stressing that the questioning was not carried out under caution.

The police asked the Pakistani players "when did you last see Bob, what were his last movements, what happened after the game... did he order anything in his room?, Mir said.

Meanwhile, the Jamaica Gleaner said a "high-ranking police officer" had confirmed that fresh evidence has surfaced which suggested that Woolmer was strangled in his room at the Jamaica Pegasus hotel between overnight Saturday.

According to the police officer, Woolmer was found half naked in his room, partially wrapped in a towel, the newspaper said.

"A bone in the neck, near the glands, was broken, and this suggests that somebody might have put some pressure on it," the officer told the newspaper.

"We are now treating this as a homicide."

The Jamaica Observer also quoted unnamed sources close to the investigation as saying that bones in the lower part of Woolmer's face were broken, suggesting he had been strangled.

Mir dismissed the suggestions, and also speculation over a link with match-fixing as "totally baseless and premature".

"I'm afraid I cannot count these as accurate because the Jamaican police force hasn't given us official information as to what were the causes of Bob's death," Mir said.

"I hope the police come up with a statement and some answers as soon as possible," he said, calling on people to be "considerate and sensitive".

Woolmer died in hospital on Sunday after being found unconscious in his hotel room a day after Pakistan were knocked out of the World Cup following a shock defeat by minnows Ireland.

Shields said on Tuesday that an autopsy conducted on Woolmer's body by a government pathologist proved inconclusive as to the cause of death which was being treated as "suspicious".

Shields said the police were awaiting the results of the toxicology and histology analysis from Woolmer's tissue sample.

But the Jamaica force have now flown in a pathologist from Florida for a second opinion.

Shields, an Englishman, justified the move, saying: "If I was in London I would have asked for overseas help in the same way."

Meanwhile, Woolmer's widow Gill admitted that there was a "possibility" her husband was murdered.

In an interview with Britain's Sky News television from her home in South Africa, she said: "I suppose there is always the possibility," apparently contradicting statements she made to Indian television in which she dismissed the possibility of a conspiracy or a match-fixing link.

"I mean some of the cricketing fraternity, fans are extremely volatile and passionate about the game and what happens in the game, and also a lot of it in Asia, so I suppose there is always the possibility that it could be that."

After Pakistan had beaten Zimbabwe in their final match on Wednesday, the entire squad gathered at the team hotel where Woolmer died to hold a memorial service.

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