McGowan death 'not murder', inquest told

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The Independent Online

A forensic specialist in knots and ligatures told an inquest yesterday that the death of black man found hanged bore all the hallmarks of suicide and not murder.

Roger Ide, a Home Office scientist who carried out a simulation of Errol McGowan's death, said the position of his body, his sheer weight and the absence of a struggle at the scene, disproved the theory that he might have been murdered then hanged, or hanged while conscious.

Further evidence submitted at the inquest into the death showed how the police sergeant who found the body at a house in Urban Gardens in July 1999 concluded Mr McGowan's case to be one of suicide.

For two hours the inquest at Telford, Shropshire, heard grim details of how the 34-year-old doorman's body had been found. As the family of Mr McGowan watched, Mr Ide used a piece of string to reconstruct the noose in which Mr McGowan was found. Mr Ide resisted the suggestion of Peter Herbert, the family's barrister, that foul play remained a possibility because forensic work had not been undertaken to entirely rule it out.

The scientist said his attempts to simulate the dragging and hanging of Mr McGowan's body, by use of an eight-stone dummy, proved the difficulty even two people would have had in hanging the deadweight of 13-stone Mr McGowan. It would have left one person to "cope with holding 13 stones of weight with one hand to get an unconscious man's head manoeuvred through the noose carefully, without causing any damage to his head or face," said Mr Ide.

The simulation had also shown how furniture would have impeded the dragging process, during which Mr McGowan's feet would have naturally fallen together. They were apart when the body was found and would have had to be deliberately placed in such a way by a murderer, which would have been odd.

Mr Ide said he had discussed with the McGowan family – who assisted him with his simulation – the possibility that Errol might have been forced into the noose while conscious, by someone who "held a gun and said 'Put your head in that [noose].'" The McGowans concluded that Errol was "not so easily intimidated" and would have "tended to injure the [assailant] first".

But Mr Herbert said Mr Ide's theory presupposed that Mr McGowan was not already fearful: in a call to police days before his death he expressed fears for his life.

Mr Ide conceded, under questioning from Mr Herbert, that he was unaware that, just as Mr McGowan might have been forced into the noose, victims of abuse elsewhere have been forced to stand on the edge of buildings and immerse their heads in water.

West Mercia Police Det Sgt Mark Churm, the first officer on the scene of the death, told coroner Michael Gwynne that he had concluded the cause of death was merely "hanging", but when pressed by Mr Herbert to consider his report from the scene, he agreed that it referred to circumstances "which appeared to indicate suicide".

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