It was the first real breakthrough in the inquiry into the death of Mr Menson since police acknowledged his death was a suspected murder and not a suicide attempt. His family have maintained that the 30-year-old musician was attacked by racists who poured lighter fuel on him during a street attack in January 1997. He died some two weeks later.
The case is the first opportunity for the Metropolitan Police to demonstrate publicly that they are learning from the criticism levelled at them by Sir William Macpherson of Cluny's report after the public inquiry into the murder of Stephen Lawrence, a teenager who lived in south-east London.
Yesterday a spokesman for Scotland Yard said: "Officers from the Racial and Violent Crime task force, building upon a great deal of hard work by other people, particularly the Menson family, have ... arrested three people in connection with the murder of Michael Menson."
The Racial and Violent Crime task force is currently investigating Stephen Law-rence's murder. Its acknowledgement of the Menson family's fight for justice will be perceived by the black community as a step forward in the Met's handling of race-attack cases. Officers who worked on the original Lawrence inquiry were criticised in Sir William's report for their indifference towards Neville and Doreen Lawrence, Stephen's parents.
In the Menson inquiry detectives have been working on the theory that up to four racists hounded Mr Menson through the streets before setting light to him.
That followed new witness statements that three or four men in a car were involved in the attack, which was not classified as racially motivated until a year after it took place.
Mr Menson died 16 days after the attack. At first police treated the death as suicide and believed he had set fire to himself, partly because he had had psychiatric problems.
The police were severely criticised for failing to take a statement from him despite his saying that he had been the victim of a racist attack. New witnesses have told officers from the Metropolitan Police's new race- crime unit that they saw three to four people "contact" Mr Menson in Kendall Parade, Edmonton, close to the place - Silver Street - where he is believed to have been assaulted.
The men may have spoken or shouted abuse at Mr Menson. Police believe the gang may have followed, or chased, their victim into the nearby street before attacking him.
Police have appealed to anyone who may have seen Mr Menson either late in the evening of 27 January 1997 or in the early hours of the following day, and a small dark car, possibly a Austin Metro, in the same area to come forward. In September last year a jury at an inquest returned an "unlawful killing" verdict.
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