Black teenageris set alight in new racist attack

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The Independent Online

A black teenager was set alight by a white gang yesterday in what police say was "undoubtedly" a racist attack.

Christopher Barton, 17, was walking home early yesterday morning when he was sprayed with a petrol-based substance by a person in a dark-coloured car which drove past him. The car then stopped and three or four white males got out, surrounded Christopher and racially abused him. Each offender then took out a cigarette lighter and set fire to the teenager before running back to their car and driving off.

Momentarily covered in flames as the substance ignited, Christopher was able to pull off his burning jacket and stamp it out. With burns to his face and hands he walked the 200 yards to his home, where a friend called an ambulance.

"I don't want to remember it. It has scared me too much," Christopher said yesterday. "I was frightened when the police came around and showed me the burnt jumper I had been wearing. I never want to see that jumper again. I try to keep myself to myself. We don't know anyone around here."

His girlfriend, also aged 17, said she could not find the words to describe the attackers. "I wouldn't like to say what I think of them," she said. "Chris gets on well with everyone. He just keeps himself to himself. This is quite a rough area and people do shout things. People who know him, know him for who he is. It doesn't matter what colour he is."

The attack happened at around 1.15am in the village of Berinsfield, 12 miles south of Oxford. Police said the incident was the first racially motivated assault in the village that they were aware of. Berinsfield has only a small number of black or Asian residents.

A spokesman for Thames Valley Police said: "This attack was totally unprovoked. It was racially motivated - there is no doubt about it. We are treating this very seriously. A number of officers feel very upset that this has happened."

Christopher, who had recently moved away from home and is living with his girlfriend and their young child, was taken to John Radcliffe II Hospital in Oxford, where he was treated for superficial burns and released. The police spokesman said that the force's community liaison team and race relations officer would be speaking to him.

Sergeant Geoff Webb, one of the investigating officers, said police were also questioning fuel station owners to try and find out where the men had bought the accelerant they threw at Christopher.

"Berinsfield is a small village and we have never had anything like this happen before," he said. "People of all nationalities, colours and creeds live here and we have not had any problems."

A friend who was with the couple yesterday said: "Mr Barton is still in shock and needs to be left alone to get himself together. With everything that's going on, we really don't want to draw attention to [his] flat."