Men taped `plotting to cover up race murder'

TWO OF the men accused of murdering the black musician Michael Menson spent hours discussing how to cover their tracks, unaware their every word was being taped by police, a court was told yesterday.

Mr Menson was left with fatal burns after three men set light to his clothing in the early hours of 28 January 1997. The 30-year-old never recovered from his injuries and died in hospital 16 days later.

The original police investigation failed to track down the killers. But two years later a "vigorous" inquiry by Scotland Yard's Racial and Violent Crimes task force decided to bug the house of one of its suspects - Charalambous "Harry" Constantinou.

Yesterday Mr Constantinou appeared in the dock at the Old Bailey alongside Mario Pereira on the second day of the murder trial. The men, both 26 and from Edmonton in north London, deny killing Mr Menson. They also have pleaded not guilty, with another man, Husseyin Abdullah, 50, also of Edmonton, to perverting the course of justice. The court was told that the third alleged killer, Ozgoy Cevat, fled to Northern Cyprus within a week of the attack.

Yesterday Nigel Sweeney, for the prosecution, told the jury that hours of taping of Mr Constantinou's flat in February and March this year had caught the men discussing the crime and how to cover their tracks.

"These are plainly conversations, not between innocent people concerned about being wrongfully arrested, but guilty people concerned about being caught and concerned about who knows and who might talk," said Mr Sweeney.

In the police tapes, transcripts of which Mr Sweeney read out in court, Mr Constantinou is heard at one point describing the events in Silver Street, Edmonton, in the early hours of 28 January 1997. He tells Mr Abdullah that they approached Mr Menson who was walking alone in a forlorn manner. "Mario [Pereira] was saying `Let's burn him'. What could I do?" Mr Constantinou is heard to say. Mr Sweeney added: "He is plainly talking about the killing and his position to be put to the police."

Mr Sweeney said the three men, evidently worried, are heard discussing whether others who knew of their crime will reveal them, how to get rid ofevidence and what to tell police. Mr Constantinou allegedly said to Mr Abdullah: "I could say I told him, `Stop. It is wrong'."

On another occasion the older man was apparently heard talking to Mr Constantinou's mother. He said: "I feel sorry for the family [of Mr Menson]. It was a horrible thing. It was a bad thing but it is done and what can you do? The man is dead. You can't bring the man back again."

Mr Sweeney told the court that on 8 March this year investigating officers placed a hidden camera in the Edmonton flat but it was discovered the following day. "Police moved in and arrested all the defendants that day," said Mr Sweeney, adding that other vital witnesses immediately came forward to give evidence.

Peter Thornton QC, for MrPereira, appealed to the jury to consider carefully his client's evidence that he took no part in Mr Menson's death.

The quality of the tapes was poor, with background noise such as a television. "There is EastEnders. Sometimes it is easier to listen to the plot on television than those who are there," Mr Thornton added.

He asked the jurors to consider whether the musician, who had a history of psychiatric illness, might have taken his own life. The trial continues.