Telford coroner recounts evidence of race hate

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The Independent Online

A coroner yesterday began summing up nearly five weeks' evidence of what he described as "the most sensitive and concerning circumstances" surrounding the death of a black doorman in Telford, Shropshire.

Michael Gwynne, coroner for Telford and Wrekin, said that he had allowed the hearing to go beyond the parameters of a normal inquest to make "the fullest possible inquiries" into the death of Harold "Errol" McGowan. Mr McGowan, 34, was found hanged in a house in Telford in July 1999 after receiving death threats and being victimised in a campaign of racial harassment.

His family have said they believe he was killed and have accused police of failing to treat the death as suspicious. The doorman's nephew, Jason McGowan, 20, was found hanged in Telford in January 2000.

Opening his remarks, Mr Gwynne recounted the evidence put by 62 witnesses over 21 days. In doing so, he painted an alarming picture of a man tormented by the hate campaign against him.

Mr Gwynne recalled how police forensics investigators had told how they arrived at the scene of the death and found Mr McGowan hanging from the electric flex of an iron. They were not told to wear special clothing to protect the scene.

Mr Gwynne said that a police surgeon Christopher Lisk had judged that Mr McGowan's body was in a similar position to other scenes of hanging he had visited. Pathologist Swapna Ghosh had carried out a post-mortem and was "absolutely clear in her own mind of the suicidal nature of the hanging". A second pathologist, Kenneth Scott, said he found no sign of injuries on Mr McGowan's body.

Mr Gwynne recalled that Dr Scott had said it would be "difficult" for Errol, who was a "young fit man", to be rendered unconscious without leaving signs of injury.

The inquest had heard from Errol's GP, Patrick Kirby, who had been told of the harassment and had prescribed Prozac. The doctor said he was "very surprised" by the death and there was no indication Mr McGowan was suicidal.

The hearing was told by Errol's manager at the Charlton Arms hotel, John Booth, of the racial harassment being directed at Mr McGowan and two Asian colleagues prior to the hanging. Racist death threats were directed at Mr McGowan by anonymous calls to his workplace.

A colleague, Malik Hussain, had said the perpetrators were a gang of 10-15 racists. He said that Mr McGowan had said of the police: "I have been to them so many times. Do I have to wait until they do something to me or my family?"

Mr Gwynne reminded the jury that the alleged leader of the racist gang, Robert Boyle, had given evidence to say he was not involved in the death and had never abused Mr McGowan. Mr Gwynne said Mr Boyle was serving a prison sentence for a racial offence.

Mr Gwynne noted that the jury listened to a tape recording of an anguished call by Mr McGowan to the police shortly before he died in which he said he was "in fear of my life".

A succession of Mr McGowan's relatives, including his fiancée and his siblings, had given evidence about the deterioration of Errol under the strain of the abuse and how they urged him to seek the help of the police. Friends said he talked constantly of the harassment he was getting from the gang and that he had been told he was on a death list.

The coroner will today direct the jury on which verdicts they should consider.