'I'm terribly sorry, I've killed Steve': Academic who restrained Oxford University professor best friend in fatal headlock EMAILED tragic news to victim's wifeSteven Rawlings was being restrained by Dr Devinderjit Sivia, but died after a lack of oxygen triggered a heart attack
The men had been friends and colleagues for more than 30 yearsDr Sivia emailed Rawling's wife to tell her: 'I’m terribly sorry but I have killed him, sorry, Devinder'Coroner records verdict of accidental death and said it is a 'very sad case indeed'
23:36 GMT, 28 November 2012
An Oxford don died as he was held in a headlock by a fellow academic he had been friends with for 31 years, an inquest has heard.
Eminent astrophysicist Professor Steven Rawlings, 50, had a heart attack while being restrained by Devinderjit Sivia – who said he was in fear of his life after the professor attacked him.
After the incident, Dr Sivia emailed the professor’s wife, saying: ‘I’m terribly sorry, but I have killed him’, the inquest in Oxford heard.
Sorry: Dr Devinder Sivia, left, pictured yesterday following the inquest into the death of Steven Rawlings, right
Dr Sivia said he had been forced to
defend himself after his ‘oldest and closest friend’ Prof Rawlings –
whose mental health had recently deteriorated – threatened to kill him
and started kicking and punching him.
When Prof Rawlings stumbled, Dr Sivia
said he seized the opportunity to protect himself by getting the heavily
built professor in a headlock.
Dr Sivia, who teaches maths at Oxford,
said he was too afraid to let go and held his friend in that position
for 20 minutes – bringing on the fatal heart attack.
Feared for his life: Dr Sivia, pictured leaving court yesterday, told the inquest Mr Rawlings punched and kicked him 'like a man possessed'
The former Nasa worker told the
inquest yesterday that the troubled astrophysicist cried ‘goodbye, cruel
world’ as his body went limp.
Dr Sivia said he thought Prof Rawlings
was ‘playing dead’ and may have been referring to a Pink Floyd rock
song, as he had been earlier in the day.
‘I thought this might be a ploy
to get me to release him because it was so melodramatic.’
Despite his brilliant career, Prof
Rawlings, a lead scientist in the world’s largest radio telescope
project, had suffered with mental health problems.
He was sectioned
following a breakdown in April last year after being found wandering the
streets in his dressing gown.
His wife Linda – who lived with him in
Letcombe Regis, near Wantage, Oxfordshire – believed that the breakdown
was caused by work pressures.
In the week before his death on
January 12, Prof Rawlings had begun to display similar symptoms. Dr
Sivia agreed to let Prof Rawlings stay with him at his bungalow in
Southmoor, near Abingdon, while Mrs Rawlings was on a training course in
The two men met as undergraduates at
Cambridge and had even co-authored an academic book together. Dr Sivia
said he could empathise with his friend’s mental health issues because
he too had suffered from depression.
In the hours before Prof Rawlings’s
death, neighbours said he had made several ‘weird statements’, such as
‘if I died tonight that wouldn’t be too bad’.
After he arrived at Dr Sivia’s home,
Prof Rawlings had appeared mistakenly to believe the pair were going to
have a sexual liaison, the inquest heard.
‘He said, “I’ve never done this
before, what do I do”,’ Dr Sivia said. ‘I got the impression he thought
I had brought him home for sex. I was confused.’
Close: Dr Sivia, left, and Prof Rawlings, right, had been friends since their student days at Cambridge University
Later in the evening Prof Rawlings
became hostile. ‘He said, “I’ve had a horrible life”, then he said
quietly “I’m going to kill you”,’ Dr Sivia said.
‘Suddenly he swung
around without warning and punched me in the face. He was screaming
“you’re going to die, you’re going to die”. He wasn’t the Steven I
The pair struggled before Dr Sivia
managed to restrain Prof Rawlings. After pinching his friend and getting
no response, Dr Sivia called his neighbours for help. While neighbour
Anthony Thompson called 999 and his wife Pamela performed CPR, Dr Sivia
emailed Mrs Rawlings.
‘At 11.30pm, I got an email from
Devinder saying “I’m terribly sorry but I have killed him. Sorry,
Devinder”,’ Mrs Rawlings told the inquest.
Mrs Rawlings called Dr
Sivia’s home and he answered and revealed that the paramedics had
arrived. ‘Devinder was crying and said “I have killed my best friend”,’
Detectives arrested Dr Sivia on
suspicion of murder and submitted a file to the Crown Prosecution
Service, which decided against taking further action.
Detective Sergeant Rob Storrar said Dr
Sivia’s version of events was corroborated by the evidence available.
The coroner recorded an accidental verdict.
The scene outside Prof Devinderjit Sivia's home in Southmoor, Oxfordshire, where police originally treated the death of his friend Prof Steven Rawlings as murder
Professor Rawlings was a well-liked and widely respected fellow of Oxford University's St Peter's College