LONDON -- The wife of a world-renowned Oxford University astrophysicist says his mysterious death at the home of a fellow academic was a “tragic accident,” not murder.
Professor Steven Rawlings, 50, was found dead Wednesday night at the home of his longtime friend, Devinder Sivia. Sivia, 49, is a mathematics lecturer at Saint John's, one of the 38 colleges that make up Oxford.
Police arrested Sivia on suspicion of murder but he was released Friday on bail after an autopsy proved inconclusive.
In a statement to the media issued through Thames Valley Police, Linda Rawlings spoke fondly of her late husband.
Oxford University / AP
Oxford Professor Steven Rawlings' body was discovered in the home of a colleague.
"I do not believe that Steve's death is murder and I do not believe Devinder should be tarnished in this way,” her statement said.
"Steve was a well-loved, caring, intelligent, sensitive man. Steve and Devinder were best friends since college and I believe this is a tragic accident."
Rawlings’ sister Linda Davey, 64, was quoted as saying by the Telegraph: “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.”
Detective Supt. Rob Mason said Friday the death might be a matter for a coroner's inquest rather than a criminal court. Further tests will be done to try to determine the cause of death.
'I would emphasize that the police are investigating all potential circumstances that could have led to his death,” he said, according to the Daily Mail.
Rawlings and Sivia co-wrote an introductory-level math book, “Foundations of Science Mathematics,” in 1999.
What exactly happened between the pair late Wednesday night remains a mystery.
A local paper, the Oxford Mail, said that Rawlings was already dying by the time officers arrived to the house in the village of Southmoor, just outside Oxford.
A neighbor is said to have tried CPR on Rawlings, to no avail, according to the Daily Mail.
Even though some signs now point to an accident, the possibility that an Oxford academic had been murdered at the home of one of his colleagues made front-page news in the British press.
The venerable university is the English-speaking world's oldest and has schooled generations of thinkers, leaders, scientists and artists. Its gothic spires are familiar parts of popular culture, as are its system of colleges, first established in the 13th century.
Tony Lynas-Gray, research assistant in Oxford University’s astrophysics department, described Rawlings and Sivia as “the best of friends.”
“Stephen talked about Dr. Sivia and said what a great person he was,” Lynas-Gray said, according to the Daily Mail.
“Stephen Rawlings was a great man and a great astronomer. He was very much liked by his students and colleagues. We’re entirely devastated.”
"The entire university community has been profoundly saddened and shocked by the tragic and untimely death of Professor Steve Rawlings," said Oxford Vice Chancellor Andrew Hamilton, the university's senior officer.
Rawlings was one of the lead scientists in the Square Kilometre Array, an international project to create the world's largest radio telescope. "The SKA will give astronomers insight into the formation and evolution of the first stars and galaxies after the Big Bang, the role of cosmic magnetism, the nature of gravity, and possibly even life beyond Earth," says the project's website.
Rawlings had an eclectic taste in music that included Kate Bush, Pink Floyd and Yes, according to the Telegraph. He was an avid cricketer and captained an 11-a-side football team within his physics department, the newspaper said.
According to Oxford University’s website, Rawlings did his Ph.D. at the Cavendish Laboratory in Cambridge in the late 1980s. After a research fellowship at St. John's College Cambridge, he moved to Oxford on a research council advanced fellowship.
“Increasingly, Steve became interested in the high redshift universe and greatly enjoyed, and succeeded in, discovering more-and-more distant radio galaxies. His interests in cosmology grew, and diversified into other wavebands: X-rays, sub-mm and infrared," according to the bio. "Steve was a prolific user of two telescopes in Hawaii, the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope and the UK Infrared Telescope, and made major contributions to our understanding of distant active galaxies, their gas and dust contents, and especially their evolution across cosmic time."
Back in Southmoor, where police were combing through Sivia's house searching for evidence, onlookers expressed disbelief.
"I've known Devinder for a number of years," neighbor Duncan Logan, 52, was quoted as telling the Oxford Mail. "And he's a lovely chap."
The Associated Press, Reuters and msnbc.com's James Eng contributed to this story.
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