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Our View: How did a state pathologist get it so wrong?

LAST WEEK we read about the arrest of a man in connection with the alleged murder of his estranged wife, two years ago. At the time, the state pathologist had examined the bedroom in which the 30-year-old mother of three was found, and ruled out foul play. She also carried out a post mortem and concluded that the woman had died of smoke inhalation; there had been a fire on her bed which police reported had been started by a cigarette.

The woman’s family in Greece expressed doubts about the official cause of death after seeing visible marks of violence on her face. It subsequently had her remains exhumed for a fresh post mortem, seeking the help of UK-based experts. The experts concluded that the cause of death was strangulation and not inhalation of smoke as the state pathologist in Cyprus had concluded.

Requesting the remand order against the husband last week, the investigating police officer told the court that it appeared the suspect had hit the woman, strangled her and then set fire to her bed. This was a shocking admission of incompetence by investigators, in particular the state pathologist. How did neither the police nor the pathologist notice the marks of violence on the victim’s face that were spotted by her family, and how in the wake of the new findings were no eyebrows raised as to how the state pathologist could have got it so wrong.

Was this an example of the slapdash and lazy way in which the authorities perform their duties and responsibilities? A verdict of accidental death was the easiest option as there would be no need for a time-consuming investigation. The victim’s immediate family was in Greece and the assumption that they were unlikely to put any pressure on the authorities could easily have been made.

Ultimately, the responsibility for this mess-up belongs to the state pathologist whose findings were completely wrong. The police could not have helped by indicating there was no foul play but it does not absolve the state pathologist of responsibility.

And this raises serious questions about the reliability of other post mortems conducted by this same state pathologist.

Perhaps there is a reasonable explanation for getting this specific case wrong, but we will not know unless there is a full investigation of the matter. It is an imperative for the authorities to establish the reasons for the unreliable post-mortem.

If it is found that this was a human error and there were mitigating circumstances we would be reassured that this was a one-off. But if the investigation finds the error was the result of sloppy work or incompetence, we have a big problem. But regardless of what it would find, the investigation is a must.

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