Police investigating the suspicious hangings of two black men in Telford appealed yesterday for information about two men seen outside the house where one of the victims was found.
At the first joint public appeal by police and the family of Harold "Errol" McGowan and his nephew Jason, Britain's senior officer in investigating race crime described the "very important case" as an indicator of "the state of race relations in this country". John Grieve, Deputy Assistant Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, led the appeal for new witnesses in the company of relatives of the dead men.
Detective Superintendent Mel Shore, leading a new West Mercia Police investigation based on the presumption that the deaths are the "result of foul play", specifically called for new information. "We know from witnesses that two people visited the house at 5 Urban Gardens at 10.30am on Friday 2 July, the day Errol died. These people are crucial to our investigation. So far they have not come forward and we have been unable to trace them."
Mr Shore also said neighbours had heard mysterious noises at 7am, apparently from the house where Errol was later found dead with the flex of an electric iron round his neck. He said: "We know from people in the close that there was a lot of banging. We want to know what that was about. It might not be connected with this investigation but so far nobody has given us any explanation for this."
Earlier, Noel McGowan, Errol's brother, said the 34-year-old builder and part-time doorman had become the victim of sinister racial harassment. "The family were aware that approximately eight weeks before Errol's death he spoke to a number of people and friends about racial harassment threats he was receiving. He expressed severe concern about his life, the life of his fiancÃ©e, Sharon, and his children, Omar and Curtis."
Mr Grieve said: "Clearly Errol had said that he was in fear of his life. There were racist incidents he had been involved in. We have been told there were other racist incidents [in Telford] that have never been reported to us. What precise bearing this had on Errol and Jason's death is everything to this inquiry."
It was disclosed that police are looking at racist incidents in Telford going back two-and-a-half years to see if they have any links to the case.
Police also appealed for people who had spoken to Jason McGowan before his death or had seen him in the hours before he died to come forward. After leaving the Elephant and Castle pub at 11.30pm on New Year's Eve, Jason, 20, who had been investigating his uncle's death, was found hanging from roadside railings the following day.
Mr Shore said: "There's nothing seen of Jason until 6am, when his body was found. We want to fill in the gap." Jason's wife, Sinead, appealed to potential witnesses not to be "bystanders" and to come forward with information.
Sharon Buttery, the fiancÃ©e of Errol, said: "I want to make a specific appeal to girlfriends, wives, mothers, sisters or any associates who may have been spoken to by the people involved, who are responsible and may know something about this."
Mr Grieve, who on Thursday told The Independent he was "very, very worried" by some of the unanswered questions, explained the need for an exhaustive investigation. "There are a series of unanswered questions that the McGowan family have been asking for six months. And if we cannot answer those questions, that tells us about the state of race relations in this country after Sir William Macpherson's inquiry into the racist murder of Stephen Lawrence." He said the investigation could bring a range of potential criminal charges. "Foul play unpacks as murder, manslaughter, complicity in another person'ssuicide, obstructing thecoroner."
But Mr Grieve, head of Scotland Yard's racial and violent- crime task force and special adviser to the McGowan investigation, said police could not solve the mystery of the deaths without the help of the family and local community.
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