Police: We are 'worried and frightened' by Telford deaths

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'I am very uneasy I can't answer some questions about these deaths' - John Grieve, senior officer on the case

'I apologise personally and on behalf of my force' - Peter Hampson, Chief Constable, West Mercia

The Chief Constable of West Mercia publicly apologised yesterday to the family of two black men found hanged in Telford, as Britain's senior officer in the investigation of race crime said the deaths made him "uneasy, worried and frightened".

Peter Hampson, whose force had been accused of not taking seriously the suspicious nature of the deaths, told the family of Harold "Errol" McGowan and his nephew Jason: "I apologise personally and on behalf of my force."

The McGowan family spent an hour yesterday meeting some of the investigation team in the incident room at Telford police station. Later, Mr Hampson, who ordered the inquiry to be completely reopened two months ago after concerns were highlighted in The Independent, told them: "I don't argue that we were perfect. I often ask myself what more we could have done. I sincerely apologise that your experience was that we had reached premature conclusions and I'm sorry that the same thing happened again shortly after Jason's death."

Today, police and the family - which said it accepted the apology and wanted to "move forward" with the investigation - will make their first joint public appeal for information.

Speaking for the first time about the case, Deputy Assistant Commissioner John Grieve, the head of Scotland Yard's racial and violent crime task force, told The Independent of his concerns over the deaths, which are now being treated as murder.

"My gut feeling is that I don't know, but I am very uneasy that I cannot answer some questions, particularly about Errol's death," he said. "Because I cannot answer those questions about Errol's death, that makes me very, very worried about Jason's death."

Mr Grieve, who is the special adviser, and effectively the senior officer on the case, said he believed a campaign of racial harassment against Errol could be linked to other racial incidents in the Shropshire town about which he wanted information. "The questions that were not answered are very frightening ones for large sections of the community," he said. "They want to know if these are racist killings? Are these young men driven to suicide by threats and racism? Are there other things that need to be investigated and uncovered that explain these young men's deaths?"

Mr Grieve said a new inquiry team, which began looking into the deaths on 1 February, was considering a whole range of possible charges which could be brought against the people who tormented the McGowan family prior to Errol's death last July. "The line is a presumption of foul play," he said. "Foul play unpacks from murder ... through to complicity in suicide or driving people to suicide, ie some form of manslaughter." Other charges are being looked at, including obstructing the coroner in carrying out an inquest.

Mr Grieve described the investigation as a "very important inquiry" which reflected on whether Britain and its police service had moved on after Sir William Macpherson of Cluny's report on the investigation into Stephen Lawrence's death.

"It's just as important if it is suicide and they've been driven to it, either by social forces or by individuals' actions, as if it is murder," he said.

Mr Grieve expressed his respect for the "enormous standing" of the McGowan family within their community and said their co-operation was crucial to the investigation. "I think their tragedy and particularly the very nature of the unanswered questions illustrates where we are in terms of national learning post-Sir William's inquiry."