A coroner has recorded a verdict of accidental death on an Oxford University professor who suffered a heart attack after being restrained in a headlock by a fellow academic.
An inquest at Oxford Coroner's Court heard that Steven Rawlings, an internationally-acclaimed astrophysicist, was suffering from mental health problems when he attacked one of his closest friends, Dr Devinderjit Sivia.
Dr Sivia, a maths lecturer at St John's College, Oxford, told the inquest how he feared for his life as Mr Rawlings punched and kicked him "like a man possessed" after becoming delusional and paranoid. Giving evidence from the witness box, Dr Sivia also described how he sent an email to Mr Rawlings' wife - who was on a training course in the United States - in the minutes after the tragedy, informing her that he had killed her husband.
Professor Rawlings, who had been friends with Dr Sivia since they were students at Cambridge University, attacked him at his home in Southmoor, Oxfordshire, on the evening of January 11 this year. Dr Sivia, who had co-authored a number of books on statistical analysis with Mr Rawlings, told the inquest he was attacked in his lounge as his friend "oscillated between fantasy and reality".
Dr Sivia, who had suffered from depression prior to the fatal incident, said: "All of a sudden he took up a statuesque pose with a look in his eyes that I had never seen before. He sat bolt upright with his fists closed and a menacing look in his eyes. Then he said quietly 'I am going to kill you'. He was no more than a metre or so from me. After he had punched me in the face, he stood back, looked at me and then punched me again."
Dr Sivia, whose account of the incident was corroborated by medical evidence as well as testimony from witnesses, added: "I repeatedly pleaded with him to stop, to come back to reality and to remember that I was his friend. I knew his behaviour was purely a result of his psychosis."
After being kicked while on the ground, Dr Sivia, aged 49, lurched towards Mr Rawlings and put his arms around his torso in an attempt to keep him still. During the period of restraint, the inquest heard, Dr Sivia felt he could not risk releasing his hold on Professor Rawlings, who he feared was pretending to be dead.
Dr Sivia, who lost his turban in the struggle, told the Oxfordshire Coroner, Darren Salter, that Mr Rawlings had gone limp and he had heard a thud as his friend's left arm and legs fell to the floor. Just before his apparent collapse, Mr Rawlings, who was said to be stressed about a grant application in the days leading up to his death, said "Goodbye Cruel World" in what Dr Sivia took to be a quote from a song by rock band Pink Floyd.
Dr Sivia, who was told that he did not have to answer questions which could incriminate him, told the inquest: "The thought did go through my mind - is he dead? I thought it might be a ploy for me to release him."
A neighbour, police and paramedics all tried to resuscitate Professor Rawlings, a well-liked and widely respected fellow of St Peter's College, and Dr Sivia was arrested on suspicion of murder at the scene, but was later freed without charge.