Police: racism led Telford man to hang himself

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The Independent Online

A senior police officer told an inquest yesterday that he believed a black man found hanging in Telford had killed himself because of a "clearly horrendous" campaign of racial abuse against him.

Superintendent John Jones, of West Mercia Police, who was in charge of the investigation into the death, said repeated racial harassment and death threats had a "huge impact" on Errol McGowan.

Mr McGowan, 34, a builder and part-time doorman, was found hanged in an empty house in Telford in July 1999.

Supt Jones said: "There was a link between the racial harassment and his death, there's no doubt about that whatsoever." But he said he believed there was no third party at the scene of the hanging.

Yesterday, in the final day of evidence in the five-week inquest, Mr McGowan's mother took the witness stand and said she was convinced he had not taken his own life. Icyline McGowan, 64, made an emotional appeal to other mothers at the hearing to try and understand how she felt after hearing her son was found dead.

Mrs McGowan, who came to Shropshire from Jamaica 43 years ago, said: "Think about [if] you had a son that was tender and cares and when you hear that that son is dead. Errol was giving the police statements about what happened."

Mrs McGowan recalled that during the inquest she had listened to a tape recording of an anguished call Errol made to the police shortly before he died, saying he was "in fear of my life". She said: "They're supposed to think that he just killed himself? The evidence alone should help them to think that Errol didn't commit suicide."

The McGowan family claims that West Mercia Police failed to act on the racial harassment and then failed to properly investigate the suspicious nature of the death. Officers have argued that procedures were properly followed.

Ronald Thwaites QC, for the force, expressed condolences yesterday to Mrs McGowan on behalf of Chief Constable Peter Hampson.

But Mrs McGowan questioned the sincerity of a letter of apology which the family received from Mr Hampson last year. She said: "They should never have wrote that letter because they didn't mean it. They are only trying to cover themselves."