Telford officer 'regrets' one-page report on death

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The Independent Online

A senior police officer responsible for examining the extent of racial abuse against black doorman Errol McGowan expressed regret yesterday that his summary report into the allegations had stretched to just a single page.

"My regret in the submission of that concise statement is that it maybe caused the family or people acting on their behalf ... distress or that it appeared that I didn't care," said Superintendent Colin Terry on the tenth day of the inquest into the hanging of 34-year-old Mr McGowan in Telford, Shropshire.

Mr Terry, a chief inspector in Telford before his promotion to superintendent at the Devon and Cornwall force, said the significance of Mr McGowan's death "was not apparent" to him at the time and that his report was also restricted because West Mercia Police was still investigating it.

"It would have been helpful, I believe, to have submitted a 20-page statement," he said. "Unfortunately, I chose to submit a concise statement."

Mr McGowan was found hanged from a door handle at a friend's house in Urban Gardens, Telford, on 2 July 1999. His 20-year-old nephew, Jason McGowan, was found hanged on New Year's Day last year.

Supt Terry defended West Mercia's failure tocontact the doorman despite an anguished telephone call to police seven days before his death. The call, in which Mr McGowan reported death threats, had a "grade three" ranking, meaning it would be dealt with by telephone. It included no mention of racism, the inquest heard.

Supt Terry said 44,000 incidents a year were reported by phone to his old division and it would have been inconceivable for him to request a transcript.

Both he and Supt John Jones, the senior West Mercia Police officer first appointed to lead the McGowan investigation, admitted that control room telephone staff were less proactive than they are now in asking questions which might have teased out the fact that Mr McGowan had been racially intimidated.

Staff must now ask "Why do you believe you have become a victim?" If a caller specifies racism, the call becomes a "grade two" assignment, to be dealt with in four hours.

Evidence suggested Mr McGowan may not always have been forthcoming about the intimidation he suffered.

The inquest has heard how Mr McGowan reported racial harassment to the police less than two weeks before his death. However, in a discussion with officers about youths who intimidated him outside the pub where he was doorman, Mr McGowan said he had never before been "assaulted or insulted" by the gang.

"The information available to officers was very different to what we have heard two years on," Supt Terry said.

Supt Jones insisted that he did "as much as possible" to level criminal charges over Mr McGowan's treatment but that the Crown Prosecution Service considered there was no case to answer. An investigation by Det Supt Mel Shaw, who replaced Supt Jones at the head of the investigation, yielded the same response.

The inquest was also told of racist graffiti in which Mr McGowan was named. Supt Jones conceded it had not been scientifically examined.

Another witness said he was dissatisfied with police officers' response to his reports of how, as he and others mourned Mr McGowan, passengers driving past in a Ford Escort Cabriolet made "smoking gun" signs at him.

The inquest continues today.

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