Man unexpectedly dies while held in friend's headlock
The world-renowned professor attacked his friend and trying to defend himself, the friend put the professor in a headlock
By Vicky Smith
OXFORD, England — An Oxford University don died of a heart attack after being held in a headlock by a lecturer pal, an inquest heard yesterday.
Professor Steven Rawlings, 50, had said "goodbye cruel world" before losing consciousness as Dr Devinderjit Sivia held him down for 20 minutes.
Dr Sivia told the hearing he thought that his best friend of more than 30 years was "playing dead".
Dr Sivia, 49, explained: "This is a line from a Pink Floyd song Goodbye Cruel World from their album The Wall. I thought it may be a ploy to get me to release him because it was so melodramatic."
Dr Sivia said Prof Rawlings had launched an attack on him after becoming delusional and paranoid.
He said: "He took up a statuesque pose with a look in his eyes that I had never seen before. He sat bolt upright with his fists closed and a menacing look in his eyes.
"Then he said quietly 'I am going to kill you'. He was no more than a metre or so from me. After he had punched me in the face, he stood back, looked at me and then punched me again."
It was then that Dr Sivia got his friend, a world-renowned scientist and respected fellow of St Peter's College, in a headlock and held him down. Dr Sivia said: "I was so out of breath from the initial assault, I was just trying to catch my breath."
After Dr Sivia realised Prof Rawlings was unconscious, a neighbour, police and paramedics all tried to resuscitate him.
Dr Sivia, a mathematics lecturer at St John's College, was arrested on suspicion of murder at his home in Southmoor, Oxon, in January. The ex-Nasa scientist was released without charge three months later.
Oxfordshire coroner Dr Darren Salter was shown video footage of a police interview in which he showed how he used an armlock on his heavily-built friend. Dr Sivia told officers: "I did have him pinned down because I just wanted him to calm down."
After demonstrating the hold on his solicitor, Dr Sivia told police: "Most of this time I was just trying to control him like that to stop him attacking me."
Dr Sivia later phoned his friend's wife, Linda, 50, who was away on business.
She told the inquest: "Devinder was crying and said 'I have killed my best friend'."
Mrs Rawlings supported Dr Sivia after her husband died and said in a statement issued through police: "I do not believe Steve's death is murder and I do not believe Devinder should be tarnished in this way."
Describing her husband as a "well-loved, caring, intelligent, sensitive man", she added: "Steve and Devinder were best friends since college. I believe this is a tragic accident."
Forensic pathologist Nicholas Hunt told the inquest Prof Rawlings, of Letcombe Regis, Oxon, had injuries to his neck, chest and voice box. He also had a fractured right hand, probably from punching Dr Sivia.
He said of the neck hold: "This form of restraint is recognised by police as particularly dangerous and would have been even more so combined with neck compression."
The inquest heard Prof Rawlings had suffered a breakdown last year and was on anti-psychotic drugs. Colleagues said he had been stressed over a grant application.
Recording a verdict of accidental death, the coroner concluded: "Devinder Sivia acted at all times in self defence and out of fear. It was an attempt to restrain Prof Rawlings and not to kill or injure him."
Dr Sivia said after the hearing: "Unfortunately the delusion and paranoia associated with his illness got the better of him, and my attempt to help Steve in his relapse came to a nightmarish end."
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