Telford: 'Evidence may have been contaminated'

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The Independent Online

A coroner warned police forces yesterday to ensure that staff are properly equipped when visiting death scenes, after hearing fears that a police surgeon may have contaminated evidence in the hanging of a black doorman.

The Telford and Wrekin coroner, Michael Gwynne, had been told a police surgeon wore no protective overalls or shoe-covers when examining the body of 34-year-old Errol McGowan, in a house in Telford in 1999. Mr Gwynne has told the inquest jury they will be "shocked" and "horrified" by evidence of the racial harassment and death threats Mr McGowan had suffered.

On the second day of the hearing yesterday, a West Mercia police surgeon, Christopher Lisk, said he had not worn an anti-contamination "space-suit" or shoe-covers. Peter Herbert QC, the barrister for the dead man's family, voiced concern that scientific evidence at the scene may have been spoilt.

Mr Gwynne agreed, saying: "There therefore has to be the possibility of contamination. The lesson to be learnt is that in future when doctors are asked to go into a scene of this nature is that they do wear anti-contamination clothing just as Dr Lisk says he does in other scenes of crime. I think it's important that we start from here and say let's look and see if we can get things changed."

Yesterday's hearing heard from Mr McGowan's former employer, John Booth, who described how the doorman was being subjected to racist death threats while working at the Charlton Arms hotel in Telford. Mr Booth used his hand to make gestures of throat-slitting and gun-firing to describe how racists had threatened Mr McGowan. He said he and other members of staff took phone calls for Mr McGowan, with someone saying: "He's a black bastard and he's dead."

Mr McGowan's doctor, Patrick Kirby said the doorman told him shortly before he died that he was "very upset" by his experiences at work. The GP prescribed anti-depressant pills. He said Mr McGowan did not appear to be suicidal.