Cape Town: Noted cricket columnist Peter Roebuck’s suicide continued to be shrouded in mystery with South African police refusing to disclose anything even as media reports suggested that he may have taken the extreme step in a spur-of-a-moment panic decision after complaint of a sexual nature by a Facebook friend.
The 55-year-old commentator plunged to death from his sixth floor room in the Southern Sun Hotel in Cape Town but Western Cape provincial police spokesperson Frederick van Wyk refused to say whether reports that he was being questioned on sexual assault charges were true.
A report in the ‘Herald Sun’, quoting a South African website, claimed that Roebuck allegedly wanted to have sex with a Facebook friend against his will.
“It is alleged Roebuck, 55, met a man, 26, at the hotel with plans to discuss a possible university sponsorship.
“Roebuck is alleged to have tried to seduce the Facebook friend and have sex with him against his will, The New Age website said,” the Herald Sun reported today.
According to ‘The Sydney Morning Herald’, a Cape Town detective and a uniformed police officer from the sexual crimes unit began speaking with Roebuck at about 2100 hrs.
An agitated Roebuck called his friend, veteran Australian Broadcasting Corporation commentator Jim Maxwell, asking him to come to his room quickly as he had a problem.
On arrival, Maxwell found two policemen and Roebuck stunned by news that a 26-year-old Zimbabwean man had accused him of sexual assault.
Maxwell was allowed to remain in the room for about two minutes, during which time Roebuck asked him to find a lawyer and contact the students he helps house in Pietermaritzburg, near Durban. Then police told Maxwell to leave.
Moments after Maxwell left, Roebuck fell to his death from the hotel room window.
An Australian cricket journalist was reportedly called to identify the body of Roebuck at a Cape Town mortuary around 10pm (Australian Eastern Standard Time) Saturday night.
“If I could have stayed in the room with him, I would have. I was reluctant to leave him.
One moment I was with him and the next, he met his fate. I realised something had happened,” Maxwell, who is expected to give police a statement, was quoted as saying by South African newspaper ‘The Witness’.
It is believed that the detective left the room soon and only the uniformed officer was in the room when Roebuck jumped down his hotel room, leaving no one to corroborate the evidence of the officer.
“Peter was in a state of utter despair. He was sitting in a chair, near the window and I can tell you it takes five seconds to open that window,” Maxwell, one of the last men to see Roebuck alive, said.
“Given his state of mind, he just had a brain snap. That is all I can assume,” he said.
“I had no way of contacting the guys (the young men). Peter had not given me a phone number,” he added.
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.
Van Wyk refused to comment on reports that Roebuck had appeared “disturbed” and had been questioned by police on Saturday.
Police had told Roebuck that a complaint of a sexual nature had been made against him by a friend he met on Facebook, the reports said.
The reports said that alcohol was not believed to have played a role in Roebuck’s death.
The reports said “Police sources said Roebuck was either going to be formally questioned in the Southern Sun Newlands Hotel on Saturday night, or arrested and taken to a station for questioning over the allegations.”
“Apparently police had gone to the hotel to take him to the police station to question him and then he died,” Independent Complaints Directorate (ICD) spokesman Moses Dlamini was quoted as saying by the paper.
ICD is a body that reviews deaths that occur in police custody or as a result of police action – was also investigating the death of Roebuck.
A Police Services official said that an inquest has been launched into Roebuck’s death and it may take four to eight weeks for it to be completed.
“An inquest can take a long time, it can be anything from six months to two or three years, but what is critical here is to get the autopsy reports, or what we call the post-mortem report,” Colonel Vishnu Naidoo told ‘The Daily Telegraph’.
“We will be looking at that first and that can take four to six weeks, sometimes up to eight weeks. When we get that report, we can determine officially what his cause of death was.
“There is no crime suspected as far as Mr Roebuck’s death is concerned,” he added.
The police have taken personal items from Roebuck’s hotel room, including a laptop. Naidoo said the exact chain of events leading to the death can be established only after the inquest.
Asked if police had spoken to Roebuck before his death, Naidoo said: “I am not at liberty to disclose that information.”
On whether the police were investigating claims of sexual assault, Naidoo said: “I am not at liberty to disclose that as well. That is all, I have nothing else to say on this matter.”