A lawyer for the police became involved in a bitter exchange yesterday with cam- paigners for Jason McGowan over evidence at his inquest that implied officers had taken part in a "cynical cover-up".
Ronald Thwaites QC, representing the police, accused the campaigners, who are trying to prove two members of the same black Telford family did not kill themselves, of lying and wasting officers' time.
Mr McGowan, 20, was found suspended by his belt from railings at 6am on 1 January 2000, only a short walk away from the pub where he had been celebrating Millennium Eve with his wife. His death came six months after his uncle Errol, 34, was discovered hanging and provoked a campaign that questioned the police investigation.
Yesterday Deborah Todd and her husband, Richard, told the inquest they saw police at the spot where Mr McGowan's body was found almost four hours before it was reported.
Mrs Todd insisted that she saw an officer standing next to a grey Vauxhall Cavalier in a cordoned-off area near the Elephant and Castle pub. Her husband said he had also spotted a police car as they drove past at 2.30am, long before the West Mercia police recorded receiving a call about the death.
Mr Todd told the jury at Telford and Wrekin coroner's court that he had been listening to an illegal police scanner at a friend's party a few hours after midnight when he first heard reports of a serious incident at the pub.
Long before friends found Mr McGowan, his wife added, someone at the party mentioned that there had been a murder in the area. But the party's host denied any scanner had been in use that night.
Mr Thwaites told the inquest: "If her evidence was true, it would be nothing less than a cynical attempt by the police to cover up the truth and deceive the family and public."
He said it was even more "amazing" that such an important eyewitness to alleged police deception should be a woman who was chairing the Justice for Errol and Jason McGowan Campaign.
The equivalent of a year of one policeman's time had been "wasted" investigating the claims, he said. "I suggest to you that you have caused great trouble to the police by giving a false story," the QC said.
To which Mrs Todd replied: "I don't think you have got the right to say that. You weren't there, I was ... I am not in the habit of lying."
The inquest continues.