Oxford: Professor Death 'Accidental'

29 November 2012, 07:25 | Updated: 29 November 2012, 07:38

A coroner has recorded a verdict of accidental death on an Oxford University professor who suffered a heart attack after being restrained in a headlock by a colleague.

An inquest at Oxford Coroner's Court heard that Steven Rawlings was suffering from mental health problems when he attacked one of his closest friends, Dr Devinderjit Sivia.

Dr Sivia, a maths lecturer at St John's College, Oxford, told the inquest how he feared for his life as Mr Rawlings punched and kicked him "like a man possessed" after becoming delusional and paranoid.

He said Professor Rawlings, who he had been friends with since they were students at Cambridge University, attacked him at his home in Southmoor, Oxfordshire, on the evening of January 11th this year.

After being kicked while on the ground, 49-year-old Dr Sivia put his arms around Steven Rawling's torso in an attempt to keep him still.

During the period of restraint, the inquest heard, Dr Sivia felt he could not risk releasing his hold on Professor Rawlings, who he feared was pretending to be dead.

Dr Sivia told the Oxfordshire Coroner, that Mr Rawlings had gone limp and he had heard a thud as his friend's left arm and legs fell to the floor.

Video footage of a police interview conducted with Dr Sivia was shown at the inquest, in which he demonstrated how he had used an armlock in an attempt to restrain his friend.

During the interview, Dr Sivia told officers: "Initially I did have him pinned down to the floor because I just wanted him to calm down.''

After demonstrating on his solicitor how he had restrained his 50-year-old friend, who was heavily-built, Dr Sivia told police: "Most of this time I was just trying to control him like that to stop him attacking me.''

Pathologist Dr Nicholas Hunt said injuries found on Professor Rawlings' body were consistent with Dr Sivia's account of restraining him after being assaulted.

The forensic pathologist told the court that a post-mortem examination had failed to reveal any significant underlying natural disease that could have accounted for the death.

Howeverm injuries to Professor Rawlings' neck, chest and voice-box - as well as a fracture to his right hand thought to have been caused by landing a punch - were consistent with Dr Sivia's account to police.

Confirming the cause of death as cardiac arrest during restraint in a prone position, including compression of the neck, Dr Hunt told the inquest: "Having considered the interview account, it is my opinion that the injuries are wholly consistent with this scenario.''

His widow Linda Rawlings told the inquest she had attributed the incident to excessive work-related stress.

Recording his verdict, Mr Salter accepted that Dr Sivia, who suffered injuries to his face, had acted at all times out of fear and had not intended to harm his friend.

The coroner said: "This is a very sad case indeed.

"I am grateful to the witnesses who have given evidence today in difficult circumstances."