'Someone killed them - I've even been told the names' Thanks for the words, say Telford, now we need deeds

On Telford's streets there is now grudging acknowledgement that the deaths may not have been suicide
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The Independent Online

The suspicious deaths of two black men have dominated conversations in the tightly knit Telford neighbourhood of Hadley.

In a community where the family of Harold "Errol" McGowan and his nephew Jason have lived for 40 years, there was a grudging acknowledgement yesterday that the police were now taking seriously fears that they were murdered. But a new police investigation will have to overcome a widely held belief that failures in the initial inquiries will prevent the truth ever being uncovered.

One elderly black man said: "The fact that the police are now taking it seriously shows that there is something to it. They should have thought that in the first place. Then the second death may not have happened and we would not have got to this now."

He added: "If anything happens to a coloured person in this town they say, "Well, it's just another coloured bloke'."

John, 33, a white taxi driver, said he grew up with the McGowan family, knew Errol well and played football with Jason. He said he was convinced they had not hung themselves but was doubtful whether the police would uncover the truth about what really happened.

John said he, along with other taxi drivers, had been interviewed by police trying to trace Jason's last movements. He said: "I said to them, 'Do you want me to say what you want to hear or what I really think?'

"My view is that I don't think they hung themselves. I picked up Jason a few weeks before. He was a good-looking lad with a good-looking new wife. Everything going for him. Why end your life?"

Referring also to the hanging of the white Telford doorman Paul Hotchkiss, who was found hanged in November 1998, he added: "We have had three people, all associated with door work, hanging themselves in 12 months in Telford.

"The law of averages would say that at least one would leave a note. It's very strange. I can not make head nor tail of it." He added: "I hate to think they have been murdered, because I think we should all live as one. But if somebody has done it, who's next?"

Everyone, it seems, has a view on the case, though nobody claims to know the real answers.

Andy, a white man who has grown up in the racially mixed area of Hadley, said: "The word on the street is definitely that somebody has killed them. I have even been told names but I can not say who. It's very doubtful whether people will speak to the police." He said that in spite of the re-launched police investigation the deaths of the two men would still be "swept under the carpet".

Neal Wright, 32, a songwriter, said: "I know that local people think it is good to have [Scotland Yard's Race and Violent Crimes Task Force] working for the black people in this community. I am black but I was born in England and I am British. Who would I turn to in such circumstances? It is nice to know there is somebody, even if it is not the local police, who is helping black people in Britain."

Mr Wright welcomed the chief constable's apology: "It takes a brave man to stand up and say, 'I was wrong'."

Jhalman Singh Uppal, a Sikh and the only ethnic minority member of Telford and Wrekin council, said: "It is nice that things are moving forward. People are eager to have an outcome, whatever it is."

A close friend of Jason and Harold McGowan, too fearful to give his name, was far more sceptical about the new investigation. "I think it is a PR exercise and they are running through the motions. If something comes out of it I will be very surprised. They say they aren't doing a fresh inquiry but what new leads do they have?"

His wariness was echoed by Graham White, who has campaigned on behalf of ethnic minorities. "It is the first time that they, the ethnic minorities, have ever been listened to. I am worried they are being lulled into a false sense of security and this is a papering-over exercise." Nevertheless, the 57-year-old said the whole campaign to get justice for the McGowan family had had some very positive results in Telford.

"It has got people questioning themselves. In the past the black community just put up with racism. They are now saying, 'Why should we put up with this any more?'" he said.

In other parts of the town, some still treat the McGowan family's claims with scepticism. The local newspaper, The Shropshire Star, which has been hostile to the family, reported last week that some Telford police officers were unhappy that their chief constable had apologised to the McGowans for the way they had been treated.

At a public meeting on Thursday night, supporters of the family expressed concern that the newspaper's stance would inhibit potential witnesses from coming to the police with information.

The special adviser to the police investigation, Deputy Assistant Commissioner John Grieve, attended the meeting and was heartened by the "positive reaction" he received from the audience.

Yesterday at the Elephant and Castle pub, where Jason had been celebrating hours before he was found dead, staff were reluctant to discuss the case. "Jason was a friend and I don't want to talk about it," said one.

West Mercia Police said it was lodging an application for the Home Secretary, Jack Straw, to ban a march by up to 150 National Front members in Worcester on Easter Saturday, after an outcry from ethnic minority groups and church leaders.

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