Menson `was set alight by thugs for a joke'

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The Independent Online
A BLACK rock musician was turned into a human torch by three thugs who set him alight as a "joke", the Old Bailey heard yesterday.

Michael Menson, 30, was found "with his top half in flames" on the North Circular road in London by motorists. He died from multiple organ failure a fortnight later.

Yesterday, almost three years after police initially dismissed the attack as self-inflicted, Mario Pereira, 26, and Charalambous "Harry" Constantinou, 27, appeared in court charged with Mr Menson's murder. They pleaded not guilty. The pair, both from Edmonton, north London, also deny with Husseyin Abdullah, 50, from Edmonton, a further charge of perverting the course of justice by obstructing the police investigation.

The third man believed responsible for the attack is said to have fled the country.

Nigel Sweeney, for the prosecution, said the only reason Mr Menson was attacked was Mr Pereira thought that he "looked like or was the man who had `stressed' his girlfriend".

Mr Pereira had later told a friend that it was a "joke gone wrong", and also said: "So what - he was black."

Mr Sweeney said that the two motorists who stopped to help Mr Menson saw him leaving a trail of burning debris and making no effort to put out the flames. When police arrived Mr Menson "appeared out of the darkness, naked except for his socks, in a trance-like state, making no sound", Mr Sweeney said. "He had terrible burns to his back from which the smoke was still rising."

No-one was arrested for two years. "At first, against the background that Mr Menson appeared to be in a trance-like state by those who went to help him, it was thought by some of them - in particular the two police officers - that Mr Menson had set fire to himself," Mr Sweeney said. "Thus the scene was not preserved by police as it should have been - nor were other steps taken which should have been."

Mr Menson, the son of a Ghanaian diplomat, had been a successful musician in the Eighties but had suffered psychiatric problems in the past few years. He was described as a "gentle, caring man".

On the day of the attack - 28 January, 1997 - Mr Menson had told his brothers that he had been attacked. Police were informed and "what remained of the scene was preserved that evening".

Fire and forensic experts concluded that the back of Mr Menson's anorak had been set alight on Silver Street in Edmonton, north London.

Mr Pereira allegedly claimed to police he was not involved - "and in addition will ask you to consider whether Menson's death might have been suicide all along", Mr Sweeney said. "We say Mr Menson's death was not suicide and Pereira is guilty of both charges he faces.

"Unknown to these three defendants, police had in fact planted a covert listening device in Constantinou's flat. It was used to record incriminating conversations which took place there between February and March this year."

The jury would also hear evidence from three friends of Mr Pereira, to whom he made admissions of involvement in the attack, said Mr Sweeney.

Within a week or so of the attack, Mr Pereira allegedly told one - Lynden Naicken - that he was with Mr Cevat and Mr Constantinou in Silver Street when they saw a black man. "There was no-one else about. They... had thrown liquid on his back. Cevat had then lit a match and thrown it at the man who burst into flames."

Another prosecution witness, Baljit Sokhi, said Mr Pereira allegedly told him it was meant to be a joke. Mr Sweeney told the court: "An appallingly unfunny one."

The trial continues.