Inquest into Telford hanging told of 'highly unusual' intervention by Chief Constable

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The Independent Online

The Chief Constable of West Mercia ordered an intensive search of the area in Telford where a young black man had been found dead, overruling a decision by the senior investigating officer, an inquest was told yesterday.

Detective Inspector Phil Pledger, who led the investigation for the first four hours after Jason McGowan was discovered hanging from railings near a Telford pub on New Year's Day 2000, admitted it was "highly unusual" for the Chief Constable to make such a decision. But he said regardless of whether he agreed or disagreed with the action it was "wholly understandable" that the Chief Constable got involved because of the high-profile investigation into the death of Jason's uncle, Errol McGowan, who was found hanged at a house in Wellington six months earlier.

Emily Thornberry, the McGowan family's lawyer, told the hearing that the Chief Constable, Peter Hampson, gave orders for an intensive search of the area where Jason's body was found even though Det Insp Pledger had decided there was no third-party involvement in the death.

Ms Thornberry suggested that he had been "bypassed" because his conclusion that Jason, 20, who worked for the Shropshire Star newspaper, had committed suicide was made only 23 minutes into his investigation.

She said: "I suggest you ignored the most basic law of detective work. You jumped to your conclusion at a very early stage and you closed your mind off. In those circumstances it was impossible for anyone to reach fair conclusions as to how it was that Jason met his death."

Det Insp Pledger countered: "Everything that should have been done was done."

Jessica Rees, a lip-reading expert who spent 60 hours examining CCTV footage recorded on four cameras at the pub where Mr McGowan spent Millennium Eve, said there was a "marked" change in the young man's demeanour over the course of the evening. He appeared to be very relaxed at the start but, by about 11.20pm, he could be seen swearing at a friend who tried to persuade him not to leave the pub. "He [Jason] is not smiling, not laughing and he appears quite fed up," Ms Rees told the inquest. She said he appeared to be "very insistent" on being left alone shortly before leaving the pub. He did not appear to be drunk or under the influence of alcohol.

The hearing, now in its fourth week, is expected to last until the end of the month.