Police said human fireball was merely taken `ill'

IT WAS late on a freezing January night nearly three years ago that Michael Menson made his final journey.

His trip across north London was to have a tragic end that would once again throw the Metropolitan Police's treatment of ethnic minorities under the spotlight and hold the force up to renewed accusations of racism and incompetence.

The 30-year-old musician had left it until 10pm to set out for the Chase Farm hospital, Enfield, to receive an injection he needed to control his schizophrenia. It appears he took the wrong bus and found himself on an inhospitable corner of Edmonton, hemmed in by a housing estate, a park and the North Circular.

Mr Menson was not alone. He was being watched by three bored young men. At first, the racist thugs taunted their victim with abuse, before assaulting him and stealing his bag and personal stereo. Then, the violence escalated and they decided to set him alight, apparently as a "joke". Their first attempt failed, so Mr Menson's tormentors went away to collect some white spirit or petrol. They poured it over his back, lit a match, and watched him burst into flames.

As John Grieve, Deputy Assistant Commissioner, who was to be fundamental in helping catch the killers, later summed it up: "Michael just happened to be the wrong person, at the wrong place, at the wrong time."

The assault and burning lasted about two hours and Mr Menson was found at 1.30am on 28 January, collapsed on a grass verge. He had sustained 25 per cent burns to his body, mainly to his back and buttocks.

Kwezi Menson recalls first hearing the news about the attack on his brother. "The police officer came and said Michael had set fire to himself and had been taken to hospital. I saw Michael with my brother Daniel the next morning. He was lucid, alert and typically Michael... We asked him how did this happen and he said that some boys had put him on fire by some phone boxes in Edmonton. As soon as possible, I telephoned Edmonton police and gave them the details."

Two days after the attack, a police officer went to the hospital, but Kwezi Menson said he did not talk to his brother.

Mr Menson died on 13 February 1997, after suffering two heart attacks. His sister, Essie, said that over the following weeks and months the police failed to keep them informed. "This was at the time of the Stephen Lawrence inquiry and the police just seemed to be concerned about covering their own tracks," she said.

The police inquiries were a disaster. Detective Constable James Dunn and PC Joanna Walshe, the two officers who found Mr Menson, classified the incident as "illness in the street" despite his claims that he had been attacked. No formal investigation was started until 12 hours after the attack and the area was not sealed off. Even after the investigation was taken over by Scotland Yard, the police would not admit they were dealing with a killing.

Up until the inquest in September last year, where the jury brought in a verdict of unlawful killing, the police were still asserting it was unclear if a crime had been committed. The Police Complaints Authority is supervising an investigation by Cambridgeshire police into how the case was initially handled.

The turning point of the inquiry came on 3 December 1998 when, following intense pressure by the Menson family, Scotland Yard's new racial and violent crimes task force, headed by Mr Grieve, took over. After meeting the Menson family and examining police notes he concluded: "It read like a murder to me."

A team of 12 detectives re-examined 300 witness statements and 600 potential suspects. They identified three prime suspects - Mario Pereira, 26, unemployed, Harry Charalambous Constantinou, 26, a student with mental health problems, and Ozguy Cevat, 22, of dual British/Turkish nationality, all of Edmonton.

Cevat fled to North Cyprus - where he thought he would be safe, as there is no extradition treaty. However, the North Cypriot authorities agreed to prosecute and last month found him guilty of the manslaughter of Mr Menson and sentenced him to 14 years in prison.

In Britain, the police managed to prick the conscience of witnesses. They hand delivered letters stressing the awfulness of the crime. They sent leaflets to the homes of suspects and witnesses saying the BBC's Crimewatch programme would feature the murder on 26 January. And they bugged the flat of Constantinou and recorded conversations with Pereira.

They hit the jackpot. In one recording, Constantinou told a friend, Husseyin Abdullah: "He [Pereira] started saying `Oh let's do him' and all that shit, going nigger and all that shit, so they drove, err, Ozzie got out the car and he tried to light his jacket, but it didn't work, so they went back to Mario's house, got some fuel, spirit or something, went back to him."

Abdullah, 50, was charged, along with Pereira and Constantinou, with perverting the course of justice by obstructing the police investigation. The police arrested the three men on 9 March.

Michael Buerk in the I'm A Celebrity jungle 2014
Arts and Entertainment
Avatar grossed $2.8bn at the box office after its release in 2009
filmJames Cameron is excited
File: David Cameron offers a toast during a State Dinner in his honour March 14, 2012
voicesAnd nobody from Ukip said babies born to migrants should be classed as migrants, says Nigel Farage
Arts and Entertainment
Stik on the crane as he completed the mural
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksNow available in paperback
Happy in his hat: Pharrell Williams
Arts and Entertainment
Stella Gibson is getting closer to catching her killer
tvReview: It's gripping edge-of-the-seat drama, so a curveball can be forgiven at such a late stage
Brazilian football legend Pele pictured in 2011
peopleFans had feared the worst when it was announced the Brazil legand was in a 'special care' unit
i100(More than you think)
Brendan Rodgers seems more stressed than ever before as Liverpool manager
FOOTBALLI like Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
The number of GP practices with 10 or more doctors has grown by 75 per cent
Phyllis Dorothy James on stage during a reading of her book 'Death Comes to Pemberley' last year
peopleJohn Walsh pays tribute to PD James, who died today
Benjamin Stambouli celebrates his goal for Tottenham last night
Life and Style
Dishing it out: the head chef in ‘Ratatouille’
food + drinkShould UK restaurants follow suit?
peopleExclusive: Maryum and Hana Ali share their stories of the family man behind the boxing gloves
Arts and Entertainment
John Hurt will voice Prince Bolkonsky in Radio 4's War and Peace
radioRadio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Austen Lloyd: Commercial / Residential Property - Surrey


Recruitment Genius: Graduate Programme - Online Location Services Business

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: What do you want to do with your career? Do yo...

Recruitment Genius: Senior QC Scientist

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This company is a leading expert in immunoassa...

Recruitment Genius: Development Scientist

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Development Scientist is required to join a ...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

Christmas Appeal

Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

Is it always right to try to prolong life?

Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

What does it take for women to get to the top?

Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

French chefs campaign against bullying

A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

Paul Scholes column

I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game