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Ten years on: How the Woolmer investigation was botched

Experts involved with the Bob Woolmer case feel the then Jamaican Director of Public Prosecutions attempted to cover up the truth to protect the state pathologist at the centre of the botched investigation

James Fitzgerald
Bob Woolmer died on March 18, 2007, the day after Pakistan were knocked out of the World Cup by Ireland  •  Jewel Samad/AFP

Bob Woolmer died on March 18, 2007, the day after Pakistan were knocked out of the World Cup by Ireland  •  Jewel Samad/AFP

Ten years after the death of Bob Woolmer at the 2007 World Cup, the then-Jamaican Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) has been strongly criticised for his role in and behaviour during the subsequent inquest.
In November 2007, a jury at the coroner's inquest returned an open verdict on Woolmer's death despite evidence pointing towards natural causes. Experts and officials involved with the case feel the influence of the DPP, Kent Pantry, was crucial in attempting to discredit evidence that pointed away from the murder theory proffered by the state pathologist Dr Ere Seshaiah.
Three independent overseas experts disagreed with Seshaiah's findings and pointed to basic errors he had made during the post-mortem examination. When they attempted to give evidence at the inquest, they said they found the way blocked by Pantry.
Dr Nathaniel Cary, forensic pathologist for the British Home Office and now chairman of the Royal College of Pathologists; Professor Lorna Martin, chief specialist at the Division of Forensic Medicine and Toxicology at the University of Cape Town; and Dr Michael Pollanen, chief forensic pathologist of Canada's Ontario province and now the president of the International Association of Forensic Sciences, were called by the Jamaican Constabulary Force (JCF) to give their expert evidence.
In a fresh interview to the Cricket Monthly a decade after Woolmer's death, Martin recalled of the inquest: "It was very adversarial - like a murder trial as opposed to an inquest. I kept a note at the time, which said: 'So I was called to present my opinion, the last of the three international pathologists to do so… it was the most hostile, uncomfortable court that I have ever had to testify in. I had two Jamaican police officers (VIP unit) with me at all times, was told not to venture out of my hotel and did not go anywhere except from the hotel to the court… It was not fun, and testifying was very frustrating.'"
Cary echoed the sentiment, telling the BBC recently: "It was a fairly hostile inquest, which was disappointing, because my involvement and the involvement of other pathologists was to simply assist the Jamaican state with getting to the bottom of a difficult case. And in such circumstances, there is no room for loss of face. It was managed in some ways more like a criminal trial. To use the director of public prosecutions was unusual and he had an incredibly adversarial style which… was totally inappropriate."
In response, Pantry said the opinions meant nothing and were speculation.
"A coroner's inquest is not a 'prosecution' so I do not understand how it could have appeared that I was 'prosecuting'," Pantry said. "I strongly suggest that you carefully examine the Coroner's Act before arriving at an uninformed opinion. The fact that others share that opinion does not make it correct."
Pantry retired from his role in 2008 and now works in academia. He defended Dr Seshaiah, pointing out that "there was no finding by the coroner that Dr Seshaiah or the police made any mistakes, and I am not aware of any fall-out or any official review of the coroner's inquest into the death of Bob Woolmer."
Several attempts to reach Seshaiah proved unsuccessful.
But Pantry's behaviour has also been criticised by the lead JCF investigator in that case, Mark Shields. Based on Seshaiah's report, the JCF pursued the murder theory for a few months, before climbing down in the face of mounting expert evidence.
"The degree of hostility in the coroner's court [for that case] was unprecedented," Shields said. "It was more of an inquisition… and it appeared to be an agenda to try to discredit professional witnesses that were brought in from abroad.
"Me and some of the other police officers were almost like suspects as opposed to people presenting evidence from the investigation. It was certainly an unprecedented approach to marshalling evidence at a coroner's inquest."
Had Seshaiah's findings been disproved, Shields said, it would have opened the possibility of a plethora of appeals from other cases that the state pathologist had been involved in.
"The consequences of finding that the verdict was natural causes - and clearly we had established that - would have caused embarrassment to elements of the Jamaican justice system, particularly around pathology and the ability of the pathologist to do his job. It would have called into question every other investigation he had been involved in and may have opened a Pandora's box for the re-investigation of older cases and the potential for appeals for many cases as well. I think that would be the motivation behind it. That is my opinion and can be the only opinion because inquests don't happen like that. I never experienced that before in my career."
It is an opinion shared by Martin. She said: "Given the bigger picture of things, I'm not surprised [at how adversarial it was]. If this particular inquest found that the state pathologist had made such a fundamental error in the case, then that would have opened up all previous convictions or decisions regarding his cases, and would have meant everyone in custody on the basis of his pathology would have had grounds for appeal.
"At the very least it makes one question the quality of the forensic investigation of deaths or autopsies that were being done, and if the pathologist could miss something so fundamental, what else was missed in this, and in all the previous cases [he] dealt with?"
Woolmer died on March 18, 2007, the day after Pakistan, the team he was coaching, were knocked out of the World Cup by Ireland. He was found lying in his hotel bathroom in Kingston, Jamaica, and never regained consciousness.
In our full account of the investigation, in the June issue of the Cricket Monthly we look at why Seshaiah's findings - that Woolmer was murdered - were rejected by the three independent experts

James Fitzgerald is a journalist and author who was working as communications manager for the ICC at the time of the 2007 World Cup. He attended every day of the subsequent inquest into the death of Bob Woolmer