Telford cafe owner tells inquest of gang threats

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A cafe owner told the Telford inquest yesterday that the morning after the discovery of the body of Errol McGowan he was visited and intimidated by a gang alleged to have racially harassed and threatened to kill the black doorman.

Roy Barnett told the coroner that Rob Boyle, Eddie Solon and four other members of a Telford gang came to his premises for breakfast the day after Mr McGowan was found hanged in July 1999. Mr Barnett said that when he left the café to go outside for a cigarette he was followed by the gang and approached by Mr Boyle. "His exact words were, 'Don't incriminate me in any of this. Errol's death has got nothing to do with me'," Mr Barnett said.

The coroner, Michael Gwynne, asked Mr Barnett what impression he gained from the meeting. He replied: "That I would be next to get the aggravation and get the hassle."

The inquest also heard told how Mr McGowan's family were told by police that if his family wanted forensic scientists to examine the death scene they should pay for it themselves.

Noel McGowan, an IT project manager, told the inquest jury that 13 family members met police after Errol's body was found on 2 July 1999 and were distressed to find officers were not treating the death as suspicious despite the fact that his brother had previously complained of receiving death threats and of being racially harassed.

"Their response was that because of the nature of Errol's case there was no need to do forensics. They added that we could do it privately but it was going to cost us a lot of money," Mr McGowan said. Asked if the family were told how much, Mr McGowan said: "About £10,000."

Mr McGowan was also upset by the alleged reaction of Detective Inspector Phillip Pledger when the family suggested that if a full investigation was not made the case might "turn out differently" in three years' time. "Inspector Pledger said that he would be retired in three years' time," Mr McGowan told the jury. He said the family received similar treatment when Errol's nephew, Jason, was found hanged in Telford six months later.

Ronald Thwaites QC, representing West Mercia police, said he was unaware of the alleged comments and was not able to respond on behalf of Inspector Pledger, who is due to give evidence at the hearing.

Mr Thwaites said he also reserved his position on a claim by a second brother, Leroy McGowan, that he believed there was a racial element to the way the family's concerns were handled by police.

The inquest had heard evidence earlier from the owner of the house where Mr McGowan was found hanging from the severed flex of an electric iron. He said the iron was not located until he found it in an upstairs bedroom when he returned from holiday abroad more than two weeks after Errol's death.

Jimmy Ross, a family friend, said Mr McGowan had told him of his fears before he went on holiday. "He said, 'I'm having some problems with the Combat 18'," Mr Ross told the inquest. "I encouraged him a lot and talked to him about it. I even said to him, 'Take no notice of the lads, they are fish and chip lads, lager boys; forget it'. He said, 'I've got to face it'."

The hearing continues.