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Last Updated: Tuesday, 12 June 2007, 17:15 GMT 18:15 UK
The bone behind the Woolmer mystery
Bob Woolmer
Toxicology reports also showed nothing suspicious
Three independent pathologists have now concluded that the former Pakistan cricket coach Bob Woolmer was not strangled. The BBC news website looks at how his death may have been mistaken for murder.

It is an unusual bone, and one which now appears responsible for nearly three months of speculation that Mr Woolmer was the victim of foul play.

The horseshoe-shaped hyoid bone is located in the neck.

It provides crucial support for tasks such as eating and talking, and is unique in that it is the only bone in the body not attached to another bone.

It is also an odd-looking bone - and it may be its curious appearance which set the investigation into his death off on entirely the wrong track.

Tell-tale sign

The key piece of evidence that pointed to foul play was the assertion by Jamaican government pathologist Ere Seshaiah that Mr Woolmer's hyoid bone was broken.

THE HYOID BONE
Hyoid graphic
U-shaped bone in front of neck
Only bone in the body not attached to another
Supported by muscles of neck
Supports the root of the tongue
Plays important role in chewing, swallowing, and speech
In suspicious deaths, fracture may indicate strangulation

It is a classic sign of strangulation - found in many cases of those who have either been manually throttled or hanged.

But the eminent international pathologist Peter Vanezis says the very nature of the hyoid could well confuse an inexperienced eye.

The U-shaped bone is linked to each of its "horns" by a joint which can be quite moveable, potentially leading one to believe the section has been fractured.

And if that was not enough, there is a small bone within an attached ligament that could well look as if it has come away from the bigger bone.

X-ray proof

The bone was not in fact broken.

In an interview with the BBC, deputy police commissioner Mark Shields revealed that the bone had not even been removed from Mr Woolmer's body during the first autopsy.

He said he subsequently ordered it to be taken out and x-rayed, at which point it was discovered that it was not fractured.

What should have in any event alerted investigators to the improbability of strangulation, experts say, was the apparent lack of bruising on the victim's neck.

It is theoretically possible to break someone's neck with very strong pressure from forearm - a move which may leave few or no markings - but it would be highly unusual, and all other forms of throttling would leave their mark.

At the same time, toxicology reports have shown there was nothing in Mr Woolmer's body which could have killed him.

Jamaican police can now close the file on a story which overshadowed cricket's showcase tournament and led to the biggest murder hunt in their history.




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