McGowan hanging 'was not suspicious'

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A detective investigating the hanging of a black man in Telford denied yesterday that he had reached a "premature conclusion" in the case.

Detective Sergeant Gordon Dolan told an inquest that he had reached a decision that there were no suspicious circumstances to the hanging of Errol McGowan without knowing that the deceased had suffered death threats.

Mr Dolan said he had been aware that Mr McGowan had been a victim of racial harassment but still believed there was nothing suspicious about the scene of the death.

Mr McGowan was found hanging from a door in a Telford house he had been minding for a friend in July 1999. Peter Herbert, for the McGowan family, claimed Mr Dolan's assessment had been based only on a visual appraisal of the scene and had set the pattern of the subsequent police investigation into the death.

He suggested to Mr Dolan that his decision should have been influenced by the fact that a group of individuals with convictions for violence and burglary had been identified as targeting Mr McGowan. The officer said that in 15 years as a detective he had not come across a crime scene which had been disguised to look like a hanging. But he accepted it was possible for someone to die without obvious signs of injury.

Mr Herbert said: "What I would suggest is that ... your decision that there were no suspicious circumstances was wholly premature." Mr Dolan said: "I made my decision when I left the premises and I made [it] based on my objective assessment of the scene". The officer defended his decision but accepted that items which had not been tested forensically were later tested when the case was re-investigated.

Earlier, Coroner Michael Gwynne suggested to Mr Dolan that forensic evidence might have been lost.

He said: "I think it's generally the view of the experts ... that part of the forensic evidence can be impaired and, I think the the final words were 'lost forever'." Mr Dolan said: "I've got to go along with what they say." But he maintained that there was no evidence of third party involvement in the death.