DNA tests on a gang of alleged racists failed to link any of them conclusively to the scene of a black doorman's death, a forensic scientist stated yesterday.
Though unidentified DNA, which did not match Errol McGowan or his family, was found on his wristwatch located at the death scene, it did not provide a match with Robert Boyle, Patrick Smitherman and seven others who are alleged to have racially intimidated the 34-year-old in the weeks before he died, said Dr Jonathan Whittaker, a genetics expert.
Five of the group, including Mr Boyle, its alleged leader, possessed three out of 10 DNA characteristics gathered from the watch – but this came nowhere near a match and was a "meaningless" statistic, Dr Whittaker told Mr McGowan's inquest in Telford, Shropshire.
DNA found on both the watch and the flex from which Mr McGowan was found hanging in Urban Gardens, Telford, on 2 July 1999 contained "hundreds of times more" of Mr McGowan's DNA profile than any DNA characteristics which didn't fit his profile.
But DNA examination of the watch could not alone offer an interpretation of the death, said Dr Whittaker, partly because the DNA could have been deposited "before, during or after" his death by countless people – from the seller of the watch to the manufacturer of the iron to which the flex was originally attached.
The coroner, Michael Gwynne, asked: "Is it possible ... to exclude these people from involvement in Errol's death, by hanging from a ligature?" Dr Whittaker said: "No." Mr Gwynne asked: "Can you include them?" Dr Whittaker again replied: "No."
Other DNA evidence, derived from analysis of Mr McGowan's jumper and shoes, suggested that Mr McGowan did not suffer a violent assault before his death. The top of one of his shoes did show some sign of recent damage, towards the back of the shoe, and probably occurred when it was not being worn, through "chewing" of the shoe, according to Dr Whittaker. This tallied with evidence from Mr McGowan's fiancée, Sharon Buttery, who had said that the family dog had a habit of chewing shoes.
As the McGowan family watched, Dr Whittaker put on latex gloves to re-examine one of the shoes and a sample of the purple carpet taken from the room in which Mr McGowan's body was found. He concluded that carpet fibres would probably have been lodged in the welt or seam of the shoe if Mr McGowan had been dragged to where he was found hanged. None was found. "With incidents of violent assault I have been involved [in], when a person is dragged, damage to the surface of the shoes would be a lot worse," Dr Whittaker said.
Questioned by Peter Herbert, the McGowan family solicitor, Dr Whittaker said evidence that police officers allegedly "contaminated" the scene of death by not "gloving up" was of concern to him.
"Obviously, it would cause me concern in any case. I would expect articles to be sealed," he said, "though I don't expect any damage [caused by a violent attack] could have been removed in the process."
The inquest continues on Monday.
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