Bungled investigation puts police under spotlight
by 4WardEver UK
Originally published 26th December 2006
Any news updates on this case will be listed at the foot of this item
A black musician died after being torched by three men, one of whom stole his personal stereo while he was in flames. Michael Menson, who had a history of mental illness, was racially abused and set alight in Edmonton, north London in January 1997. He died on 13th, from complications and two heart attacks caused by 30% burns to his back.
No charges were brought against any police officers in connection with the two botched investigations of the murder of Michael Menson, even though the police complaints authority found negligence and racism in the investigations. The police treated the case as suicide, even though in hospital he told several people, including his brother and a woman officer, that he had been attacked by four white youths.
A three-year investigation for the police complaints authority by Cambridgeshire police found that the first two investigations were unprofessional, uncoordinated, in part negligent, and at best inept. It also found examples of institutional racism. The family were checked with special branch to see if “political motivation might be at play”.
The unreleased report also found that at the inquest an officer told a pathologist: “I don’t know why they’re worried – this only concerns a fucking black schizophrenic.”
It was only when an inquest jury returned a verdict of unlawful killing in September 1998, and after Menson’s family met the home secretary, Jack Straw, two months later, that a third set of investigators, led by the race and violent crime task force, were appointed and three suspects charged.
The Crown Prosecution Service informed the family in a letter that: “Although there were undoubtedly failings in the two investigations preceding the one which finally brought the offenders to justice, I do not consider that any are sufficiently wilful or grave as to justify criminal proceedings.
During the Old Bailey Trial, Mario Pereira, 26, a student, and unemployed Harry Charalambous Constantinou, 26, both of Edmonton, north London, denied murder. Mr Nigel Sweeney, prosecuting, said Ozguy Cevat, 22, the third man allegedly involved in the attack, had fled to Northern Cyprus on 5 February, and had not returned.
The court heard that police at first believed Mr Menson had set fire to himself, and failed to seal off the area as a crime scene. Mr Sweeney said that it was not until Mr Menson told his brothers at his hospital bedside that he had been attacked, that an investigation began.
Mr Menson, the son of a Ghanaian diplomat, had been a successful musician in the 1980s, but had suffered psychiatric problems. Just before the attack, he had moved to supported accommodation in Arnos Grove, north London, from a hospital.
Mr Sweeney told the jury that in the early hours of 28th January, Mr Pereira and Mr Constantinou and their friend Mr Cevat set fire to the back of Mr Menson’s anorak, near some telephone boxes on an Edmonton street. Mr Constantinou then stole his personal stereo. They then fled the scene in a red Metro car which belonged to Pereira’s mother, and which was later sold.
Mr Menson made his way, still on flames, to the nearby North Circular Road where two passing motorists, and later the emergency services, went to his aid. Mr Menson, “suffering terrible burns”, was taken to hospital where, later in the day, he told his two brothers that he had been attacked. Police were informed and the investigation began.
Fire experts and forensic scientists concluded that Mr Menson had not set fire to himself. Mr Sweeney said Mr Pereira confessed the killing to three friends, saying the motive was simply that Mr Menson was, or looked like, a man who had “stressed his girlfriend.”
Mr Pereira and Mr Constantinou also denied with Husseyin Abdullah, 50, unemployed of Edmonton, a further charge of perverting the course of justice by obstructing the police investigation. Mr Sweeney said they had spent about two years trying to cover up their involvement. They had warned those to whom they confessed not to give information to the police, and they lied to the police when they were interviewed, the court heard.
Police were unable to uncover evidence of who had been responsible until the inquiry was handed over to the Racial and Violent Crime Task Force and the team began a “vigorous investigation.”
When interviewed by police, Mr Sweeney said, Mr Constantinou admitted that he had been in the car with the two others before the incident. He said Mr Cevat and Mr Pereira had got out of the Metro and tried to set fire to Mr Menson’s anorak with a lighter. He said all three went to Mr Pereira’s address not far away, where Mr Pereira got some white spirit, and then all three returned.
“Constantinou claimed that despite his protests, Pereira and Cevat then got out the car with the white spirit and went around the corner to the telephone kiosks where Mr Menson was. “They then returned, laughing, shortly afterwards,” said Mr Sweeney.
The court heard how Mr Constantinou, Mr Pereira and Mr Abdullah were trapped when they discussed how to cover up the killing at Mr Constantinou’s flat. They spoke about the possibility that other places where they met were bugged, unaware that every word was being taped on recording devices in the flat.
In December 1999 one man was found guilty of murder and another of manslaughter. The killers of black musician Michael Menson have been given jail terms of life and 12 years. Student Mario Pereira, 26, was given the maximum sentence at the Old Bailey for murdering Mr Menson, who was set on fire in a London street in 1997.
Charalambous Constantinou, 27, was jailed for a total of 12 years for manslaughter and perverting the course of justice.
Kwesi Menson, the dead man’s brother, said, “I am deeply concerned. We think prosecutions ought to have been brought, because we have been told there is clear evidence of serious failings.
The family’s solicitor, Michael Schwarz, would not rule out legal proceedings against the prosecution service, the Met or individual officers.
Anger at bungled murder inquiry
10 June 2004
Family of Michael Menson led a heroic campaign
Michael Menson killer jailed for life
22 December 1999
Lessons from Menson murder
21 December 1999