Byline: PETER HILLMORE
They shouldered the coffin with effort, the strains of grief and physical exertion on their faces. Then they slow-stepped in a column past the silent, expressionless facade of Wellington police station.
It was an eloquent accusation.
But, as with so much about the death of Errol McGowan and the later death of his nephew, Jason, not all was as it seemed. The funeral party had come by hearse, yet the cortege had halted discreetly around the corner so the coffin could be manhandled from the car and carried past the police station.
Across the road, summoned early by one or two of those supporting the burden, television cameras began greedily to consume the scene. Here were all the ingredients for what has become a familiar storyline: a police force accused of blundering, an angry family, allegations of racial harassment, and now a black man dead. It made the BBC local news.
The deaths of 34-year-old Errol and 20-year-old Jason in the Shropshire town of Telford have begun to cause what might turn out to be a seismic controversy. Some believe they both committed suicide, hanging themselves from a doorknob and a roadside railing. But others, some of whom were closely involved with the Stephen Lawrence case, believe that - here, in the very middle of England - there have been two lynchings.
And as the pressure groups, the lawyers and the activists rush to contest the issue, the real truth of what happened to these two unfortunate men becomes ever more important, and ever harder to discern. And the case is no longer just about their
deaths, but the barely utterable notion that some elements of the race relations industry are no longer about promoting harmony, but about making trouble.
Harold 'Errol' McGowan worked as a builder and part-time doorman at the Charlton Arms pub in the Wellington area of Telford. On July 2 last year he bought his sandwiches from the local garage as usual. He had agreed to make morning checks on a friend's house while the friend was away. He was seen going into the house at 7.30am and apparently pulled back the curtains. When he did not return home from work that evening, his girlfriend Sharon Buttery raised the alarm.
Police broke into the house and found him sitting on the floor with an electric flex round his neck, attached to a doorknob. The flex had been cut from an iron in the house.
The shock to the family was immense. Errol apparently had much going for him. He had been planning a huge family holiday to Jamaica with Sharon and his three children. There he intended to surprise Sharon with a proposal of marriage.
Errol's nephew Jason McGowan, a handsome young man married four months previously to a white girl, Sinead, was found dead in the early hours of New Year's Day. He was hung by his own leather belt from railings by the side of the road. The railings are so low that Jason would have had to kneel to kill himself. When the body was found it was in a sitting position, legs out in front. His backside was barely off the ground.
He worked as a production assistant at the Shropshire Star, the local paper,
which had reported his uncle's death as a straightforward suicide. In the previous few weeks, Jason had begun asking around about racial abuse of Errol.
On New Year's Eve he had been celebrating the Millennium with his wife and friends at a local pub, the Elephant and Castle. He said he wasn't making any New Year resolutions because he already had all he wanted. At about 11.30pm, he said he was just going out for a breath of fresh air. He was found dead at about six the next morning.
Yet the location of Jason's death seems as odd a place for murder as for suicide. The railings adjoin the road.
Pedestrians pass close by, picked out by car headlights, and there would be a high risk of being spotted trying to hang someone by their belt. …