A senior police officer rejected a suggestion yesterday that his force had been institutionally racist in the way it treated the mysterious hanging of a black man in Telford.
Inspector Phillip Pledger, of West Mercia police, reacted angrily to claims that the family of Errol McGowan – who was found hanged in July 1999 after suffering a campaign of racial harassment and death threats – believed their concerns over his death were not being addressed because he was "a black, working-class man".
Peter Herbert, for the McGowan family, told the inquest that the force's failure to link the harassment and the hanging was evidence of "institutional racism" as defined by Sir William Macpherson of Cluny in his report on the murder of Stephen Lawrence. But Insp Pledger said: "I don't accept that the investigation into Mr McGowan was affected in any way shape or form by the fact that he was a black man." He said his personal opinion was that Mr McGowan had taken his life as a result of the racial harassment he was suffering.
Mr Herbert suggested that officers prematurely assumed Mr McGowan's death was suicide. They had failed to account for two men seen outside the empty house where his body was found and for the fact that Mr McGowan had complained of being stalked by those who were harassing him.
The coroner, Michael Gwynne, referred the officer to testimony from a pathologist, which highlighted to the inquest that no dissection of the body was done. The pathologist said such a procedure might have shown evidence of suspicious bruising.
Insp Pledger said the death was only reinvestigated with the assumption of murder seven months later because Mr McGowan's nephew, Jason, was also found hanged in mysterious circumstances. He accepted that evidence could have been lost before scientific tests were done but said it remained his view that there was no direct third-party involvement in the death.
Questioned by Ronald Thwaites QC, for West Mercia police, Insp Pledger said he believed the McGowan family had been given an "enhanced response" to the death in line with Sir William's recommendations on racial incidents.
The inquest was adjourned until Tuesday.