KINGSTON (Reuters) - The high-profile British police veteran who headed the investigation of cricket coach Bob Woolmer’s death in Jamaica defended himself on Tuesday against accusations the probe was botched.
Mark Shields, the deputy police commissioner in Jamaica, said he would not resign after police reversed course, nearly three months after launching a murder investigation, by announcing Woolmer had died of natural causes.
“If anybody should ask me why I should resign, I would ask why. We did a thorough investigation. We could not guess and we had to keep an open mind,” Shields told a news conference in Kingston.
A tall, silver-haired former Scotland Yard detective, Shields was for months the voice of the investigation, accepting an autopsy finding that Woolmer was strangled and repeatedly stating his aim to catch the killer or killers.
Shields faced criticism from colleagues in recent weeks for not immediately seeking second and third opinions on the cause of death of one of the world’s most famous cricket coaches, but he defended the delay in ending the murder investigation.
“I am happy because the fact is that murder investigations are not like TV series where everything is done in 45 minutes and you get a conclusion,” he said. “All we can do is conduct a thorough investigation and not rush it and as soon as we have all of the facts report it to you.”
Woolmer’s purported murder was another setback for the reputation of a tourism-dependent Caribbean island known for one of the world’s highest murder rates.
It may also be viewed as a setback for Shields, who arrived in Jamaica more than two years ago with a sterling reputation and has been praised for his work in cutting the murder rate by more than 20 percent last year.
Although the hiring of Scotland Yard officials prompted some grumbling in police ranks, Shields became a celebrity on the verdant and mountainous island of 2.7 million people that is tainted by drug and gang violence and police corruption.
From international terrorism to a kidnap plot against footballer David Beckham’s wife, he had plenty of experience in handling big cases in Britain before the death of Woolmer.
Shields started his career with the City of London police in 1976 and headed its special branch before he turned 30.
He helped to manage London’s controversial Ring of Steel project to surround the city core with closed circuit television cameras and other measures as protection against the Irish Republican Army and similar threats.
His resume also includes work against eastern European drug-runners, Russian mobsters and money launderers, as well as counter-terrorism operations.
At Scotland Yard, he moved up quickly to chief superintendent.
“I’ve had pretty high-profile cases,” Shields told Reuters in an interview in March. “I’ve worked in many parts of the world before, ranging from drug trafficking to kidnapping ... so it’s not new to me to do this sort of work.”
In 2002, he led an operation that foiled an alleged plot to kidnap ex-Spice Girl Victoria Beckham.
Shields got a taste of Jamaican crime in Britain by working against “Yardies,” gangs responsible for drug-running and violence. He went to Jamaica before temporarily to work against surging extra-judicial killings of civilians by members of the Jamaica Constabulary Force.
Additional reporting by Jim Loney in Miami