Telford officer 'had not heard of racist group'

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The Independent Online

The senior officer in charge of investigating racist incidents in Telford at the time a black man was found hanged said yesterday he had never heard of Combat 18, a white supremacist group.

Errol McGowan was found dead on 2 July 1999 after repeatedly complaining to police that he had received racist threats from the organisation.

The 34-year-old doorman's death, his inquest heard yesterday, had shaken the local community as deeply as that of the black teenager Stephen Lawrence. The number of reported racist incidents leapt more than 15-fold in the year after he died.

On the ninth day of the hearing, a former high-ranking West Mercia officer was challenged about why police did not do more to help Mr McGowan before his death.

The jury had been told that the young man, along with a fellow doorman Malik Hussain, had gone to the police less than two weeks before his death to complain of racial harassment by a man called Robert Boyle and his associates.

Mr McGowan had told police that he feared his name was on a Combat 18 hit-list, that he feared an attack by the National Front and provided details about an assault on a local Asian man.

He also told them that Robert Boyle had complained that all the local pub doormen were black and Asian and that he feared trouble that weekend outside the Charlton Arms where he worked.

After listening to their complaints, PC Maurice Wright failed to complete an FIB3A form for racist incidents and instead submitted a report to the intelligence department on which he wrote: "It is not a racial incident. It revolves around the fact that Hussain and McGowan are doormen and have refused to let Boyle in as he is banned."

Superintendent Colin Terry, the then chief inspector in charge of monitoring racial incidents for the area, backed the officers decision in a review despite the fact that policy stated that a racist incident was one in which any person involved perceived it as thus.

"There is nothing there that directly suggests this is a racist incident," he told the inquest yesterday. "In all my 19 years service with West Mercia I have never been given any indication of any activity by that group within the force area."

Peter Herbert, representing the McGowan family, asked him: "When you read Combat 18 did you have to go and ask somebody what it meant?" To which the officer replied: "I guess I did."

He explained that being a member of the National Front was not illegal and that complaining about black and Asian doormen was "not necessarily racist".

Mr Herbert said: "I would suggest where it is quite clear the officer flew in the face of policy you were quite happy to ignore it in your review."

Superintendent Terry replied: "It was not flying in the face of policy. That officer had made a decision on the information reported to him." But he said later: "With hindsight maybe that officer should have regarded it as a racial incident but not at the time."

The inquest earlier heard that in the immediate period after Mr McGowan's death the number of reported racial incidents had leapt from 13 a year to 217. Superintendent Terry, now serving with Devon and Cornwall Police insisted the jump had been due to a concerted effort to improve awareness in the community as well as the force.

The inquest continues.