The family of a former SAS soldier who ran a Zimbabwe goldmine and was found hanged at his mistess’ home fear he may have been murdered, an inquest has heard.
Robert Wood, 54, was found hanged at the home he rented with his mistress in Zimbabwe.
A pathologist in the African country said Mr Wood had committed suicide.
But his family has told a coroner the Zimbabwean authorities who investigated his death had identified four murder suspects but refused to co-operate with UK police who had also probed the death.
Recording an open verdict, Surrey coroner Richard Travers said some of the evidence he had heard at the inquest into Mr Wood’s death was ‘very suspicious’ but there was insufficient detail to conclude what had happened.
Glasgow-born Mr Wood – known as Rab to his friends – had been running a lucrative goldmine in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, on behalf of two British city investors in return for a 13 per cent stake in the business.
The inquest heard a pathologist in Zimbabwe said Mr Wood had committed suicide after his body was discovered, but Mr Wood’s family fear ‘foul play’ had been at hand.
He was found hanged in the spare room of a house that he rented with lover Henrietta Dube on the morning of March 9 last year, after a night out drinking heavily.
His brother Ian Wood, who travelled to the country to investigate the death earlier this year, claimed in court that Miss Dube, a director in the mine, had forged Mr Wood’s will.
He also said Miss Dube’s boyfriend Bhekithemba Nyoni had ‘stepped into Rab’s shoes’ in running the mine and had emptied the company’s account in the process.
Ian Wood told the inquest police in Zimbabwe had told him they had identified four murder suspects – but he could not get any more information from the force.
He also told how he had uncovered evidence that his brother’s mistress, Miss Dube, had given differing accounts of the death and had forged a will to try to cash in on Mr Wood’s assets after he died.
The forgery was being investigated by the Zimbabwe police but again he could not get any information.
He said: ‘I got a phone call to say that Henrietta had been up to the mine with armed guards and taken over the mine. They stole gold, removed some vehicles and took over the mine.
‘They emptied the company bank account on February 15, which was the same day the forged will was signed.’
Mr Wood also showed the coroner an email he had received from Miss Dube. He said: ‘It says “I don’t believe Rab killed himself at all. I also want to see justice being done”.
‘She’s the one who was supposed to have been in the house with him (when he died). Whether she got frightened or whatever, maybe she’s getting frightened because we are getting closer to the truth.
‘Whether this guy Bhekithemba took over the situation and forced her hand, we don’t know.’
Ian Wood also said he believed Mr Nyoni had a fight with his brother on the day of his death and that he had broken his glasses in the scuffle.
He said: ‘She (Henrietta) says he was in a fight that day but she does not know who with.’
Robert Wood’s wife Susan, 59, said she was aware of the affair with Miss Dube but stuck by her husband, with whom she had two teenage sons aged 18 and 19 years, and had let him know it would not affect their family life.
She told the coroner she had spoken to him the day before his death about him returning to their home in Windlesham, Surrey, to celebrate his 55th birthday with the family.
The coroner heard Mr Wood had served in the SAS and his military training meant he was used to dealing with tough situations.
After leaving the military, he had worked as a businessman providing security services to miners in Sierra Leone, before branching out into the mining industry there and in Zimbabwe.
Mrs Wood described her husband as an optimist who was ‘too full of life’ to kill himself, and said: ‘There was always something good around the corner.’
Mr Wood’s older brother, David Wood, told the coroner he met with him in London one week before his death and that he ‘looked troubled.’
Giving evidence, he said: ‘I said to him “what’s wrong with you?” He said to me: “They are trying to get me out of the mine. I’m going back to sort it out”.
‘At the time, I didn’t take note of anything.’
A post-mortem examination in Zimbabwe gave the cause of death as asphyxia due to hanging and a pathologist recorded it as a suicide.
Mr Wood’s body was flown back to the UK for another post-mortem examination, which also gave the cause of death as asphyxia due to hanging.
Detective Sergeant Gary White, of Surrey police, explained their inquiry had been hampered by a lack of cooperation from the Zimbabwe authorities.
Giving evidence, he said: ‘We have made diplomatic attempts and requests for information through the right channels. In this case, nothing has been forthcoming.
‘There appears to be suspicion of foul play by the family but there is no tangible evidence we’ve been able to ascertain to support that.’
Recording an open verdict, Coroner Richard Travers said: ‘It has to be said that some of what I’ve heard does seem very odd and indeed very suspicious.
‘But I have to recognise that much of what has been said, in court terms, is mere speculation. There’s an absence of direct evidence to support it.
‘In all of the circumstances, there is insufficient evidence for me to determine properly how Rab came by his death and I therefore record an open verdict.’
Speaking after the inquest yesterday, Susan Wood said: ‘He was a strong and wonderful husband and a loving father and an extremely positive person.
‘We hope it will not be too much longer before we can get some answers about how he died.
‘It has been tough, but he taught me a lot by his example. He was so strong, so resourceful, and so positive that in his memory I’ve been putting that in to practice to get through this.’
Ian Wood, of Dover, Kent, said: ‘We are happy with an open verdict. We hope publicity about this case will lead to answers and we are putting out a $25,000 dollars reward for information.
‘We hope that may be a catalyst to spur someone on in Zimbabwe to come forward and talk about what happened to Robert.’