I wish I'd done more, officer tells Telford inquest

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The police officer responsible for dealing with complaints of racial harassment by a Telford man who was later found hanged admitted yesterday that the response to his anguished call for help had been inadequate.

Sergeant Brian Farmer told the inquest into the death of Errol McGowan that he wished he had done more. During a brief exchange with a police telephone operator, Mr McGowan said he had received another death threat and was living in fear of his life, yet the call was logged as a low priority.

Seven days later, on 2 July 1999, Mr McGowan was found dead in a house he had been looking after for a friend in Telford. The tape of his final call to police was played for the inquest jury yesterday.

Peter Herbert, representing the McGowan family, accused the police of "incompetence" and a "glaring failure".

No action was taken after the call. Sgt Farmer, a friend of the dead man and someone to whom he had previously turned to for help about racial harassment, explained he had been planning to talk to him on the night of 2 July. But by that time Mr McGowan was dead.

The call had remained on Sergeant Farmer's voicemail inbox for three days, until he returned to work. He decided against taking immediate action because he did not feel Mr McGowan was under direct threat and was merely ensuring that his concerns were officially "logged".

Sgt Farmer told the inquest: "There are degrees of death threats." But he conceded that with the benefit of hindsight he wished he had spoken to Mr McGowan earlier.

When Mr Herbert pressed the officer as to whether he considered his response to have been sufficient, he said: "Errol is dead, so whatever we did could be argued was not enough."