Saved: knife man who set himself alight

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The Independent Online

A man was arrested today after threatening police officers with a knife and setting himself on fire.

The man, 23, was released from hospital after receiving treatment for minor burns and was arrested on suspicion of affray.

Two police officers also needed hospital treatment after suffering smoke inhalation and minor burns to their hands as they put out the flames.

A helicopter, armed response officers and a dog unit were called to Horseshoe Lane in Cranleigh in Surrey at 10.40 last night after receiving a call about a man threatening his family with a knife.

When the police arrived the man threatened to stab officers and produced a can of petrol before running away into woodland behind the detached house on the quiet rural lane.

When firearms officers found the man and challenged him to put down the knife he set fire to petrol with which he had doused himself and approached the firearms officers.

Police fired a baton round at the man to stun him so that they could put out the flames and get him to hospital.

Neighbours said the man had been upset after his bulldog had to be put down the day before.

One, who did not wish to be named, said: "The RSPCA came round and they said that it was attacking people and would have to be destroyed. I think the man was really cross with his mum for having the dog put down."

A police spokesman said the arrested man had suffered only minor burns due to the quick thinking of the officers.

The two injured officers were discharged today after receiving medical treatment.

Superintendent Helen Collins praised the actions of the officers who extinguished the flames.

She said: "They used their bodies and their hands to put out the fire. They put themselves in great danger and we are very, very proud of them."

She said officers did not carry fire extinguishers as part of their routine kit and added: "They have to assess a situation and make a decision.

"Whilst I can't order my officers to do something like this, the first priority of the police is to preserve life and officers are expected to put themselves in harm's way in order to protect the public."

Inpector Paul Pearson of the tactical firearms unit said: "In their own words, they thought they were going to die a very painful death. The man was alight and petrol on the patio ignited as well and there was a petrol can nearby. They said they were engulfed in a fireball.

"They said that once they had incapacitated him, they couldn't then stand by and watch him burn to death."

The windows of the house where the incident took place had been smashed and the man's family were not answering the door today.

Neighbours said that they moved into the area six months ago. The man is thought to be one of four sons.