Tragedy rocks cricket world

2011-11-14 00:00

CRICKET writer Peter Roebuck’s weekend death plunge from the sixth floor of a Cape Town hotel appeared to be a spur-of-a-moment “panic decision” caused by police inquiries into an alleged sexual assault.

This is the view of his friend, veteran Australian Broadcasting Corporation commentator Jim Maxwell, one of the last men to see Roebuck alive on Saturday.

A distraught Maxwell told The Witness last night that Roebuck was “in despair” moments before his apparent suicide.

An agitated Maxwell called him asking him to come to his room quickly as he had a problem.

Maxwell said Roebuck asked him to contact an attorney and the young men he lived with in Scottsville, whom he referred to as his children.

“If I could have stayed in the room with him, I would have. I was reluctant to leave him.”

He left Roebuck with two police officers who were in his hotel room to question the 55-year-old “about an incident which led them to an inquiry involving Roebuck”.

Moments later Roebuck fell to his death from the hotel room window.

Maxwell would not elaborate on the nature of the inquiry, saying the truth would come out in time.

The Sydney Morning Herald reported today that a Cape Town detective and a uniformed police officer from the sexual crimes unit began speaking with Roebuck at about 9 pm.

It is believed that only the uniformed officer was in the room when Roebuck jumped.

The Herald reported that paramedics rushed to the hotel but Roebuck was pronounced dead.

Police established a crime scene and took personal items from the room, including a laptop.

Maxwell, who is expected to give police a statement today, said: “One moment I was with him and the next, he met his fate. I realised something had happened.

“I had no way of contacting the guys [the young men]. Peter had not given me a phone number.

“I had known him for a long time. This is very traumatic.

“I hope his friends in Pietermaritzburg can cope with this because those of us left here are struggling.”

Roebuck was a long-serving cricket columnist for The Witness and Weekend Witness and was recognised as one of the world’s leading cricket writers and commentators.

He was also a renowned international cricketer.

He was in Cape Town to cover the first Test between South Africa and Australia at Newlands.

Roebuck had homes in Pietermaritzburg and Australia where he wrote for the Sydney Morning Herald and the Melbourne Age while also commentating for Australian television.

In an ironic twist to his suicide, Roebuck wrote the foreword to a book detailing suicides in the cricket world called By his own hand: A Study of Cricket’s Suicides.

Roebuck wrote; “Cricketers are vulnerable because the game attracts sensitive men of aesthetic temperament, the very men who are in the very end least well served by it.”

The Independent Complaints Directorate confirmed last night that it will investigate the role of the police in Roebuck’s apparent suicide.

ICD spokesperson Moses Dlamini would not be drawn on the nature of the sexual assault investigation against Roebuck, saying that was the domain of the police investigators.

He confirmed reports that police were in the hotel room with Roebuck and were preparing to take him to the police station for questioning.

National police spokesperson Colonel Vish Naidoo, on the other hand, refused to reveal whether a police investigation was even under way.

He said only that police have opened an inquest into Roebuck’s death “in order to determine the circumstances” in which he died and that at this stage there is “no evidence to suggest foul play”.

Roebuck received a suspended jail sentence in England 10 years ago after pleading guilty to common assault for punishing with a cane or bat three young South African cricketers he had been coaching.

“Obviously I misjudged the mood and that was my mistake and my responsibility and I accept that,” he said at the time.

Tributes poured in around the world, including from Indian broadcaster Harsha Bhogle who reportedly posted: “Peter Roebuck was meant to write about cricket in the manner Sachin Tendulkar was born to play it.”

Gerald Majola, the chief executive officer of Cricket South Africa, said in a statement that South African cricket has lost a good friend.

“He was a fierce critic of South African cricket in the unhappy days of the rebel tours, but he made a personal tour of South Africa after the completion of the unity process and the establishment of the United Cricket Board of SA.”

Writing the column in today’s Herald that Roebuck should have written, columnist Greg Baum said:

“Roebuck was eccentric. He was a tall, spare, fit man who lived an austere, almost ascetic life, not indulging in such fripperies as deodorant. His trademark was a tatty straw hat with a wide brim. It was one of few possessions found in his hotel room. On anyone else, that hat would have been an absurd affectation.”

Baum added: “He was complex, intense, taut, edgy, opinionated, a little manic, mostly cheerful, sometimes broody. He was a contrarian, not for the sake of it, but because he always had another view.

“He spoke quickly, in a clipped tone, needing to get the thoughts out so that more could follow; his broadcast voice was his street voice. He did not do small talk, ever.”

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