Comment: It is our job to ask questions

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The Independent Online

There can be no sense of satisfaction from the latest developments following the tragic deaths of Harold and Jason McGowan, especially when the truth about the way they lost their lives is still so uncertain. However, this newspaper is entitled to claim some vindication in the news that the police are now working on the premise that the men were murdered.

The purpose of The Independent's reporting of these cases was never to assert definitely that the men were murdered, or that they were the victims of a racially motivated lynch mob. But there was enough doubt about the speedy presumptions of suicide to require a fuller police investigation.

There was also the possibility that, despite the recent lessons of the Stephen Lawrence case, the police in Telford had been insufficiently sensitive to the concerns of the family of the men simply because they were black. It was this suggestion that provoked the most hostility. It was suggested, locally and nationally, that a liberal, metropolitan newspaper was attempting to use a case in which there was no hard evidence of a racially motivated crime to accuse the police, in overlooking that possibility, of racial discrimination.

It was suggested that, simply by reporting the doubts about the McGowans' deaths, The Independent was painting Telford as an unacknowledged bastion of Middle English racism. Since we highlighted the case, however, the police have accepted the criticisms of their handling of it. Last week, following the intervention of the head of the Metropolitan Police race crime unit, West Mercia police apologised to the family, and now they are treating the case as a murder inquiry. That is all the family wanted.

It may be that the deaths in the space of six months last year of two members of the same family were a tragic coincidence. It may be that the racial harassment of several members of the family was not directly connected with the deaths. But it is not a libel on all the inhabitants of Telford to suggest that the alternative possibility should be taken seriously. On the contrary, any fair-minded community should welcome the thorough investigation of possible crimes to ensure both that justice is done and that every member of that community feels justice has been done. Everyone should welcome the fact that such an outcome has now drawn closer.