Telford detectives to quiz girlfriends of suspects

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Detectives investigating the suspicious hangings of two black men in Telford will try to elicit information from the wives and girlfriends of suspects who may have been responsible for the deaths.

The tactic, based on the hope that silences will be broken as allegiances change, was used in the investigations into the deaths of Stephen Lawrence and Michael Menson.

The police investigation into the deaths of Harold "Errol" McGowan and his nephew Jason is now based on an "initial presumption of foul play".

The Metropolitan Police Deputy Assistant Commissioner John Grieve, special adviser to the inquiry, has told the McGowan family that detectives are "working on the premise that [the two men] were murdered".

He has indicated that police will try to appeal to "wives, girlfriends and associates" of a group of men who are suspected of harassing the McGowan family and making death threats before the hangings.

Yesterday Sinead McGowan, Jason's widow, said: "Mr Grieve said we were not going to get confessions from [suspects] but if these are racially motivated murders people would brag about it and their wives and girlfriends would know."

The police decision to treat the case as murder vindicates the family and its campaign for justice. They had accused the police of assuming the deaths were suicides when there were sufficient grounds for a murder inquiry.

Mr Grieve, Britain's most senior officer in the investigation of racial crime, has spent several days in Telford looking at the case. Scotland Yard's racial and violent crime task force, which Mr Grieve heads, has been involved with the investigation for two months.

Members of the task forcehave been actively seeking intelligence on racist incidents in the area. At a series of fortnightly public meetings in Wellington, the district where the men lived, people have been encouraged to come forward and speak to police in confidence about racial attacks.