Telford: Damning evidence of police failures

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The Independent Online

Further evidence of the bungled investigation into the suspicious hangings of two black men in Telford emerged yesterday as police finally conducted forensic science tests at the scene of one of the deaths.

Nearly 10 months after Harold "Errol" McGowan was found hanging from a door handle with an electric flex around his neck, officers took away the door and other items for fingerprinting. The development came on the day a forensic science expert who trains police officers in the examination of crime scenes described the failings in the investigation as an "embarrassment".

Paul Millen, the former head of scientific support for Surrey Police, carried out an assessment of the scene of Errol's death at a house in Urban Gardens, Telford, Shropshire. He said that "something has gone wrong" with the police investigation. Mr Millen said that having been warned that Mr McGowan had been the subject of repeated death threats and a sustained campaign of racial harassment, police should have conducted a thorough forensic science examination of the scene of his death.

He said: "They have not looked and without looking you won't find answers. If there is a suggestion that somebody has assisted or caused his death, the fingerprints will still be there. I have been to scenes of crime that have been examined many months or even years after and evidence has still been found."

Mr Millen, who has been forensically testing crime scenes for more than 20 years, has been commended by the Metropolitan Police Commissioner and HM Inspector of Constabulary. His department at Surrey Police was designated a "centre of excellence" in 1997.

After being shown a copy of a report on the scene of Errol McGowan's death written by Mr Millen for a Dispatches television documentary screened tonight on Channel 4, West Mercia police yesterday finally removed the door from the house, which Errol had been checking on for a friend who was on holiday.

Police also took away for testing other items including an ironing board, which the owner of the house said had clearly been moved but which had not been forensically examined. Clifton McGowan, the brother of the dead man, said yesterday that the family was furious at the delay.

He said: "To get the police to take action it has taken someone independent to point out that these tests should be done. The family have been asking for this for 10 months. We are worried that West Mercia are not really serious in their new investigation but are trying to wash over the mistakes of the past."

Six months after Errol's death on 2 July, his nephew Jason McGowan was also found hanging at a roadside after a night out. Jason had been trying to investigate the circumstances of the death of his uncle, a part-time doorman. The McGowan family claim that police made assumptions that both deaths were suicide and did not investigate the possibility of foul play. Yesterday the family solicitor, Errol Robinson, said the lack of forensic examination of Errol McGowan's death was a "culpable failing".

He said: "Mr Millen's findings vindicate what the family have been saying all along. That the scene was not treated in the way that it should have and with the potential it had for solving the family's questions and concerns."

The failings in the police investigation have already led to the force's Chief Constable, Peter Hampson, apologising in writing and in person to the family. He ordered a team of 47 officers to conduct a new investigation into the deaths.