Niki Reynolds, a 37-year-old mother of three, was walking home through Maida Vale, north-west London, one evening when she was grabbed from behind by a man who got out of a battered BMW. He held a short knife to her throat and demanded money.
"I was just walking along minding my own business when a car with two men inside pulled alongside and a guy jumped out," Ms Reynolds said yesterday. "He started shouting at me asking for money and then became more aggressive. With his left hand he hit me on the jaw and with his other hand he pulled out a knife and held it to my throat. It was more the shock than the pain which stunned me."
After a struggle, Ms Reynolds, who had been about to light a cigarette, put her lighter behind her, held it against her attackers crotch and flicked its flame. "I just wanted him away from me and off my body," she said. "I wasn't really thinking about what I was doing. "He didn't have a clue what I was doing but after a few seconds of struggling the heat suddenly hit him and he pulled away swearing and shouting. The next thing I knew he had fallen on the ground. The other guy in the car was swearing at him and he stumbled back to the car. I was rooted to the spot to the spot because I was terrified that if I ran they would be able to catch up with me. Thankfully they just drove off." Apart from the shock of the attack, Ms Reynolds was unharmed and no money was taken.
Pc Jane Mallia, of Harrow Road Robbery Squad said: "The place she held the lighter is a sensitive area, I believe. His trousers did not catch fire but he was clearly in a lot of pain.
"It was a heroic thing and it did raise a smile among the police officers. But we would not recommend that anybody do this as it could have provoked the man and made him angrier."
Mark Rowe and Simon Reeve