Boy, 12, cleared of torching friend in petrol bomb attack

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The Independent Online

A boy aged 12 was cleared yesterday of deliberately turning a friend into a human torch by throwing petrol over him and setting light to it.

A boy aged 12 was cleared yesterday of deliberately turning a friend into a human torch by throwing petrol over him and setting light to it.

Alfie "Podge" Page, 11, suffered 70 per cent burns after being engulfed in flames, his clothes melting on to his body. His injuries were so severe that he came close to dying three times.

Yesterday, a jury took little more than an hour to clear his alleged attacker of causing grievous bodily harm with intent on May 3 and also found him not guilty of "deliberately" inflicting the injuries. The schoolboy from Gillingham, Kent - who cannot be named for legal reasons - maintained the tragedy was a "terribleaccident".

The youngster, flanked by his mother and a solicitor, showed no reaction as the verdict was returned at Southwark Crown Court in London. He will be sentencied next month after admitting "recklessly" inflicting the injuries.

The victim's mother, Maria, 39, burst into tears and screamed from the public gallery: "He is a liar."

As she ran from the hushed courtroom, her husband, Arthur, told Judge Andrew Patience: "I apologise for that, your honour."

The court was told that a "gang" of youngsters had been going to woodland to set off home-made petrol bombs when the incident took place.

The young defendant, a victim of bullying by his peers, had allegedly flung petrol over Alfie Page, laughing as he applied his lighter and saying "have that", "burn" and "I'll see you on your deathbed."

Robin Johnson, for the prosecution, said it was not some prank gone wrong but a deliberate act.

However, the schoolboy insisted he went to his friend's aid when his friend, who was carrying a petrol bomb, got caught on a fence. He said a strip of cloth of Alfie's torn trousers became snagged on wire fencing as they brought up the rear of the five-strong group carrying the Molotov cocktails to the woods.

"Podge asked me to burn the part that got caught," said the youngster. "I sparked it, flicked it and went to burn the part that was caught and he went up in flames. He just went up ... it just went 'vroom'."

The boy will be sentenced on 15 December at Maidstone Crown Court.

Alfie Page spent four months in a specialist burns unit at Broomfield Hospital, Chelmsford, Essex, where he had 19 skin grafts and 12 hours of surgery. He returned home in October but continues to have daily hospital treatment.

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