Saturday 21 April 2018

Oxford don released over death of professor as family say 'it was terrible accident'

Andy Bloxham, Mark Hughes, Martin Evans, John Bingham and Victoria Ward

OXFORD University don Devinder Sivia, who was arrested on suspicion of the murder of his long-term friend and colleague Professor Steven Rawlings, has been released on police bail.

Sivia, 50, was arrested on Wednesday night at his home in Southmoor, Oxford, after police discovered the body of 49-year-old Prof Rawlings, a married astrophysicist.

Thames Valley Police said the post-mortem examination had proved inconclusive and Dr Sivia was being released on police bail until April 18.

Detective Superintendent Rob Mason, from the force's major crime unit, said: "This is a tragic incident and our investigations are ongoing to establish the cause of death."

He added: "I would emphasise that the police are investigating all potential circumstances that could have led to his death. Due to the post-mortem examination results proving inconclusive and further examinations being required, this has necessitated a lengthy bail date."

Prof Rawling's family were struggling to come to terms with their loss today. But they said they did not believe that Prof Sivia could have murdered his friend and blamed his death on "a tragic accident".

Linda Davey, 64, Prof Rawling's older sister, said he was not the type of man to get into an argument over anything.

She said: "They have been friends for 30 years. We can't think that there was any kind of fight. We can only assume that it was a terrible accident. Steven was big, but he was gentle."

Police believe that the pair, said by neighbours to be "the best of friends", had an argument after returning to Dr Sivia's house following a meal at local pub.

Prof Rawlings and Dr Sivia, who lectures at Tony Blair's alma mater St John's College, had been friends for many years. They co-wrote a book called Foundations of Science Mathematics, which was published in 1999.

On Thursday night a post-mortem examination was unable to establish a cause of death and further tests will be conducted.

Dr Sivia is a stipendiary lecturer in Mathematics for Sciences at Oxford University. He lectures to undergraduates studying chemistry and physics and has published two books.

An e-mail was sent to St John’s students warning there had been an incident.

Prof Rawlings was based at St Peter's College, where the television chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and the film director Ken Loach studied. His website shows he was a keen amateur footballer and played cricket.

He had a PhD from Cambridge and an MA DPhil from Oxford and listed among his interests modern art, music, travel and visiting his local pub, the Greyhound Inn near his home in Letcombe Regis, near Wantage.

Duncan Logan, 52, who lives opposite Mr Sivia, said he had known both academics for several years and described them as "the best of friends".

The builder said: "I can't believe what I'm hearing it's like a bolt from the blue. They were the best of friends. They were nice, gentle, well-spoken, polite and hard working people.

"I am proud to have had both of them as friends. I never heard them row."

He added: "Devinder didn't drink but they used to go to college dinners together.

"Steve was very laid back. Nothing would faze him.

"I was in the house when he was told to go abroad at very short notice and he hadn't organised anything.

"His wife Linda was running around booking taxis and sorting out his things and he didn't seem to be bothered by it. Steve used to joke that Devinder used to pinch his cans of coke out the fridge."

He continued: "They seemed to respect each other enormously, and talked very highly of each other. I got a text about it today and at first I thought it was Devinder who was dead. I can't imagine Devinder hurting anyone. I've never even heard him raise his voice. He such a gentle person.

"I've no idea what might have happened. Devinder lived alone and I don't know if he had any relationships. I never saw him with anyone."

Mr Logan said he had first met Mr Sivia after doing some work on his house and that the professor had recommended him to his friend.

Kelly Ludlow, 30, who lives opposite the alleged crime scene, said: "There must have been four or five police cars outside the house at one stage.

"I saw a man wearing a turban being led away from the property. He was cuffed and two policemen were with him.

"It was very dark and I couldn't see him clearly enough, but he was dressed all in white."

A small bunch of flowers was placed outside the house by a neighbour of Dr Sivia. Prof Rawlings's colleagues at St Peter's College paid tribute to the professor, who was married to Linda.

Prof Rawlings’ wife flew back from an undisclosed overseas location after being informed of her husband’s death.

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