Britain's top race-crime officer called in to Telford inquiry

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The Independent Online

Britain's senior officer in the investigation of suspected racial crime was last night appointed a special adviser to the police inquiry into the mysterious hangings of two black men in Telford.

Deputy Assistant Commissioner John Grieve, head of Scotland Yard's Racial and Violent Crime Task Force, has joined the investigation after the Home Secretary, Jack Straw, took a personal interest in the case. Mr Grieve will advise Peter Hampson, the Chief Constable of West Mercia, on the investigation into the deaths of Harold "Errol" McGowan, 34, and his nephew Jason McGowan, 20. Harold McGowan was found hanging in a house in Telford last July after a campaign of racial harassment and death threats. His nephew was found hanging from railings on New Year's Day after investigating his uncle's death.

The development will be seen as an important climbdown by West Mercia Police which has firmly resisted calls by the family to transfer the inquiry to Scotland Yard.

The McGowan family solicitor, Imran Khan, said: "We see the role of the special adviser as de facto the senior investigating officer. As far as we are concerned, Mr Grieve is in charge of the investigation."

The McGowan family have accused West Mercia Police of assuming that both deaths were suicides and failing to investigate properly the possibility that they were murdered. During a meeting with Mr Straw, the family said they had no confidence in West Mercia to conduct a thorough investigation and called for the inquiry to be switched to Scotland Yard. Last night Mr Hampson said he had given Mr Grieve "unfettered access to any and every aspect" of the inquiry.

He said he had asked Mr Grieve to engage with the investigation team to ensure "that the considerable degree of knowledge, skill and experience you have gained in London through the investigation of the suspicious deaths of black people is fully utilised to the advantage of this inquiry". He has asked Mr Grieve to help set up a lay advisory group, including members of the McGowan family, to improve the confidence of the black community in Telford in the police.

Mr Hampson agreed in February to reopen the investigation into the two McGowan deaths. He said last night: "This new investigation is progressing well. Det Supt Mel Shore and his team of 47 staff are pursuing numerous lines of inquiry and are determined to leave no stone unturned in the search for the truth concerning these two deaths. However, we have failed, so far, to establish an effective working relationship with members of the McGowan family." He said Mr Grieve would have a "hands-on approach". Mr Hampson said: "No one else in this country has anything approaching John Grieve's experience of investigating the deaths of black people and working with their bereaved families."

The Home Office said last night: "The Home Secretary has previously met members of the McGowan family and their legal representatives to discuss their concerns. Following the meeting, we understand there have been fruitful discussions between West Mercia Police and the Metropolitan Police Racial and Violent Crime Task Force.