'Leader of racist gang' denies part in Telford hanging

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A man alleged to be the head of a racist gang that threatened to kill a black man later found hanged appeared at the inquest yesterday and denied any involvement in the death.

Robert Boyle, 30, who is serving a sentence for racially aggravated public disorder, said he had never abused Errol McGowan, who was working as a doorman in Telford.

Mr McGowan, 34, was found hanged in his house in the Shropshire town in July 1999, after complaining to police that he was being subjected to racist death threats.

Boyle faced members of the dead man's family as he was led into the hearing. Ronald Thwaites QC, for West Mercia police, asked Boyle: "Did you want to run him down and beat him up and kill him?" He replied: "No, I did not." Boyle, who was born in Glasgow, admitted he had been banned from every pub in Telford, but claimed it was the result of a conspiracy against him.

Asked by Michael Gwynne, the coroner for Telford and Wrekin, about many witness statements linking Boyle and other gang members with the harassment, the witness said: "I never racially abused him or verbally abused him. I've had an argument with him."

Boyle said that he had lost part of his sight in one eye "due to a black and Asian beating". He said: "There was no charges brought against any Asians on that." Boyle acknowledged an incident in a Telford supermarket where he and his brother "had a confrontation" with Mr McGowan, but said it was not violent. He also admitted involvement in a fight at a take-away in Telford at which Mr McGowan was present. He said his quarrel had been with the victim's friend, Malik Hussain.

Asked by Mr Gwynne about Mr McGowan's fears he would be murdered, he said: "I can't understand why he had them fears at all. I've never racially abused Errol at all."

The witness denied the suggestion by Mr Thwaites that he had been with men who drove past Mr McGowan's workplace on the night of his death, celebrating and making gunshot and throat-slitting gestures.

Peter Herbert, for the family, said Boyle made a "hanging motion" while shouting "black bastard" at a friend of Mr McGowan's at a magistrates' court. Boyle said he was gesturing to the magistrate.

Boyle denied having approached Mr McGowan in the street and telling him: "Your time is up." The hearing resumes on Monday.