Investigation into Telford death was lacking, say police

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The Independent Online

A review of the police investigation into the hanging of a black man in Telford found that the inquiry was "slow" and conducted with a "minimum of expenditure", an inquest heard yesterday.

The investigation by West Mercia Police into the death of Errol McGowan, 34, in July 1999 was reviewed the following month by the neighbouring West Midlands force.

Mr McGowan was found hanging from a door handle, with the electric flex of an iron around his neck, after being subjected to a campaign of racial harassment and death threats.

The inquest in Telford has heard that Mr McGowan's family pleaded with police to carry out forensic tests at the scene of the hanging.

The hearing was told yesterday that a report written by Detective Superintendent Malcolm Ross, of West Midlands Police, suggested that officers should carry out tests on a knife and iron found in the house, if only to reassure the dead man's family he had not been murdered.

The review found that the West Mercia force "should have had a more vigorous approach to the inquiry which would have had implications for staffing and finance". The review found that a "minimum of expenditure" had been devoted to what was regarded as a major incident.

Detective Inspector Phillip Pledger yesterday defended his decision to reject repeated requests from the McGowan family to forensically test the scene.

He said a 25-minute look at the "meticulously maintained house" had convinced him the death was not suspicious because of the lack of signs of struggle. He told the hearing: "In my view, no other person had been in that room and there was no other person involved in the death of Mr McGowan."

The coroner, Michael Gwynne, told the officer that the inquest had heard from experts that there were a number of possible scenarios whereby the deceased could have been rendered unconscious and hanged. The coroner questioned Det Insp Pledger about an open upstairs window in the house and whether he should have checked for himself the dead man's van, parked outside the house, before making his assessment of the death.

Mr Gwynne said it was "important to think the improbable". He asked: "Did you go into mindset mode?" The officer replied: "No, I didn't."

Peter Herbert, for the McGowan family, suggested to Det Insp Pledger that the fact Mr McGowan had complained to police that he was receiving death threats, had been the victim of racial harassment and was appearing as a prosecution witness against individuals alleged to have been persecuting him should have been enough to make the death suspicious.

But Det Insp Pledger, who denied telling the family that they would have to pay £10,000 for their own forensic examination, said there had to be a "purpose" to fingerprinting and other scientific tests and that "speculation" was not sufficient justification.

He denied claims by the dead man's relatives that they had been treated in a "patronising, discriminating way" and said they had been dealt with in a "proper manner".

The inquest continues.