A teenager who claimed he was set on fire in a racist attack has been arrested on suspicion of fabricating the story.
Thames Valley Police said yesterday that the incident, in which the 17-year-old allegedly suffered petrol burns to his arms and face, had never taken place.
A police spokesman said the boy, who cannot be named for legal reasons, had been arrested and questioned with two other men "on suspicion of conspiracy to commit criminal deception". All three have been released on police bail.
The alleged attack in the Oxfordshire village of Berinsfield captured headlines last week after the youth, of mixed parentage, posed for pictures with his scars clearly visible.
He claimed that early last Friday four white youths had sprayed him with petrol, racially abused him and set fire to his clothes with cigarette lighters, before driving off.
After managing to strip off his clothes and stamp out the flames, he said he walked a few hundred yards to his home, where his friends called an ambulance. "I don't want to remember it. It scared me too much," he told reporters.
The incident, coming after the controversies surrounding the police response to the deaths of Stephen Lawrence, Michael Menson and Ricky Reel, led the local force to start an immediate high-level investigation. It initially said that it considered the incident was a race attack.
Local people were dismayed by the attack, because the village had a peaceful reputation. There were local claims yesterday that the youth invented the attack to cover up another incident.
Richard Goodfellow, a spokesman for Thames Valley Police, said the force "took this case very seriously and committed a large number of detectives, and one of our four senior investigating officers, to the case. All of our detectives have worked in a highly professional manner and for long hours throughout the last six days and are now of the opinion that the racist attack never occurred.
"We would like to reassure the people of Berinsfield and members of ethnic minority communities in Oxfordshire that this attack did not occur."
The youth and the two men, who are aged 41 and 37, and are not related to the teenager, have been bailed until 11 May.
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