Telford man 'told son he would be found strung up'

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The third black man found hanged in a Shropshire town warned his son ominously that he might be found "strung up" like the two before him, his inquest was told yesterday. Less than two weeks later, John Elliot's body was found on the stairs of his flat in Telford, a belt round his neck attached to the banister.

Yesterday the jury of seven men and four women saw pictures of how he was found. There was no evidence of a break-in, but some fingerprints and DNA profiles found there had never been identified. Mr Elliot had complained of being threatened in the weeks before his death, the inquest was told.

By that time Telford had already been shaken by the markedly similar deaths of an uncle and nephew, Errol, 34, and Jason McGowan, 20, in low-level hangings in July 1999 and January 2000.

Yesterday, at the beginning of Mr Elliot's inquest, the Telford and Wrekin coroner, Michael Gwynne, told the jury there would be statements from 31 witnesses. Among them would be Mr Elliot's son Damien Currier, 23, who had seen his father at a family gathering 11 days before his body was found on 31 May last year. The 43-year-old had told his son "if he was ever found strung up like the McGowans, it was not his fault".

The inquest, Mr Gwynne added, would also hear that the dead man, the son of the Olympic boxing contender John Elliot, had suffered from a heroin addiction, mental health problems and marriage difficulties. The coroner warned the jurors they would hear "concerning'' evidence which would include details of the "scourges of society; physical violence, misuse of alcohol and drugs". Mr Elliot's wife, Wendy, the mother of his fourth and youngest child, sobbed quietly throughout.

Mr Elliot's sister Michelle Care said she had gone to the flat where he usually stayed after arguments with his wife when he failed to make his usual call to his mother. She asked 16-year-old Steven Davies to help her get in and he climbed through a kitchen window. "He came out the door rather quickly, shouting, 'Someone's hanging. Call an ambulance'," she said. "I walked in and realised we didn't need an ambulance because John was dead."

The door was not locked and windows leading to a roof above shops were open. Mr Elliot lay on the stairs, a belt round his neck attached to a cloth tied to the banister. Near him lay a kitchen knife, and a similar cloth was found in his bathroom.

By the time the senior CID officer, Detective Sergeant Jonathan Groves, closed the scene, six to eight people had walked through it. The officer said that while trying not to contaminate the area, their priority had been to see if Mr Elliot could be saved. But he had been dead for some time. "It is inevitable there is contamination at the scene. The prime function of an officer is to preserve life."

Asked if at any point he had been told this was a suicide scene, he said: "I particular ensure any death I attend, I attend with an open mind. If you approach with anything else than an open mind you can't make an impartial decision."

Tristram Elmhirst, head of forensic science at West Mercia police, said he found no evidence of anyone else having been in the flat though he could not completely rule that out.

The inquest continues.