Before leaving this subject, I just want to explain and clarify the story of how I got involved in the Bob Woolmer investigation.
Late in the evening of Saturday, March 17th, I was home alone, as usual. It could even have been early Sunday morning, London time. I had, for some reason, Radio Five Live on in the background. I’ve vaguely followed cricket since the early 1970s, when my heroes were Alan Knott and Derek Underwood, and I supported Kent in the County Championship. So I’ve been aware of Bob Woolmer’s career over the past 30 years.
So when I heard his voice, and knowing that this had been his swan-song in international cricket, I gave the interview my attention. I was much struck by what I heard. It seemed to me that, below the surface of his words, he suspected that the Pakistan batsmen had conspired to throw the match. He even named three of them. To me, it was one of the most arresting, moving and dramatic interviews I had heard for a while.
The next day, he was dead. At first it was treated as a suspicious death but within days it became a murder inquiry. The Jamaican police started to appeal for witnesses, for people who had spoken to Woolmer in his final hours, for any information that could help them with their investigation. I thought about the valedictory interview and hoped that the BBC had responded to the call.
I looked at the fall of the Pakistan wickets on YouTube. Except perhaps for the two catches taken by the wicket-keeper, all of the wickets looked dubious to me. What my eyes were seeing seemed to back up what I believed my ears had heard Woolmer imply in the interview.
On Monday, March 26th, a Guardian journalist wrote an article (“This innuendo about the Pakistan team is a disgrace”) criticizing journalists for pointing the finger of suspicion at the Pakistan squad. I submitted a couple of comments on the Comment is Free weblog. It increasingly occurred to me that I was one of the very few people who had heard that final interview.
A witness to a witnessing is a witness. The thousands of people listening to Five Live that night became witnesses in a soon-to-open Jamaican murder investigation. I was one of them. But it seemed crazy for me to contact the police about the interview, or to contact the BBC and make sure they did their duty and handed it over. If all the listeners did that, the police and the BBC would be swamped. It was the responsibility of Alison Mitchell, the reporter in Jamaica, to contact the police as a witness, or for her producer to act, or for Five Live managers. And yet…my gut told me that Alison Mitchell had been listening to Bob but not hearing him, and that a similar inattention to detail could lead her not to realize the possible value of the interview to the police. My gut also said that the BBC corporately did not consider itself to be a possible witness, only seeing its role as a medium by which the police could appeal for witnesses. Finally, my instinct was that the Jamaica Constabulary Force had not heard the interview. On Tuesday afternoon, about 5pm London time, I emailed the JCF to let them know about what I’d heard [see below].
I wasn’t listening to Five Live that evening. If I had been, Five Live Sport was, as usual, on between 7 and 10pm. The final hour was set aside for chat about cricket – the final half-hour of which was focused on Bob Woolmer and his last interview with Alison Mitchell. Mark Saggers was the presenter – he was in Barcelona, it being the eve of the England-Andorra soccer match. The estimable Dougie Brown, the Scotland and Warwickshire player, who was a friend of Bob, was in the Birmingham studio, whilst Ms. Mitchell was in London. Never did they admit that the BBC had been sitting on this interview for ten days. Ms. Mitchell did not explain that, several hours previously, she’d been contacted by detectives who’d been contacted by a listener in England (me) about the interview, which she had forgotten all about and had considered innocuous. That lack of honesty with the listeners did not do the BBC proud.
After the five-minute one-on-one interview was played, It seemed clear to me, from their verbal reactions, that both Saggers and Brown were touched by the content of the interview. It occurred to me that not only had my intervention been helpful to the police, and to Woolmer’s family, it had benefited his friends too.