KINGSTON, Jamaica – Jamaican police are standing by their account of the cause of death of former Pakistan’s cricket coach, Bob Woolmer, despite reports surfacing in the international media that he may have been poisoned.
The ancient drug, aconite, is said to have been used to kill Mr. Woolmer. While the local police have said the cause was asphyxiation, owing to manual strangulation, forensic experts have stated that aconite would in fact cause asphyxiation.
But yesterday, Karl Angell,director of communications for the Jamaica Constabulary Force, stood firm by police reports that Mr. Woolmer was strangled.
“Thus far we have to work with what is at hand. At hand is the pathologist report that he (Woolmer) died from asphyxiation as a result of manual strangulation,” said Mr. Angell.
“As far as talks of poisoning (are concerned), we await the toxicology report from the forensic lab,” he added. He, however, could not give a timeline as to when the results would be ready.
Aconite is said to shut down an individual’s organs and slow the breathing. Death is usually by asphyxiation within 30 minutes.
The Sunday Mirror in the U.K. reported April 1 that a Pakistani had called Jamaican police and claimed that aconite killed Mr. Woolmer.
The newspaper quoted Professor of toxicology, John Henry, of St. Mary’s Hospital in Paddington, London, who said, “Woolmer would have felt nauseous after the drug began to work and would have gone to the bathroom to be sick. He wouldn’t have realised straight away how serious his condition was, so it was doubtful he’d have phoned the hotel’s reception.
“By the time he realised how ill he was it would be too late. He would have collapsed and been unable to move. The drug causes a loss of power in the limbs.”
Professor Henry explained, “Aconite is a poison which stops the heart and other internal organs from working, causing the victim to die of asphyxiation. It works like cyanide.
“The poison gives the victim a sensation of ants crawling over the body.
“It makes the skin clammy and hands and feet tingly. It also causes vomiting and diarrhoea.
“The victim’s breathing gets slower and slower and eventually stops. All the while the victim’s mind remains clear, so it is a particularly cruel death”.
Meanwhile, Dr. Garfield Blake, immediate past president of Jamaica Association of Clinical Pathologists, said while he was unaware of Aconite, if it works in a way similar to cyanide, then it could be difficult to detect in a toxicology test.
According to him, when one conducts a toxicology test there are some general drugs such as cocaine and alcohol that are looked for.
Dr. Blake noted that there are hundreds of different drugs in the world and it would be difficult for a toxicologist to look for all of them.
“So unless you are going to tell them of the drugs that you suspect then they will look along those lines,” he said, adding that certain drugs are examined depending on the locale.
He noted that in Trinidad, for example, the first drug a toxicologist would look for is Paraquat – a toxic pesticide, as it is prevalent in that country.
Dr. Blake said an individual could also be poisoned as well as strangled. “These things are not mutually exclusive”.
Aconite is said to be widely used in Pakistan and has been blamed for the deaths of several high profile individuals. Mr. Woolmer, 58, was found unconscious in his room at the Jamaica Pegasus hotel on March 18, less than 24 hours after his team lost all hope of advancing in the ICC Cricket World Cup after a shock defeat to Ireland at Sabina Park. He was pronounced dead at 12:14 p.m., at the nearby University Hospital of the West Indies.
Police later reported that he was strangled.