A boy was critically ill last night after being doused with flammable liquid and set on fire while playing with friends near his home.
Neighbours yesterday described how they went to the rescue of Alfred Page when, shocked and badly burnt, he staggered towards them, crying: "Can you help me?"
The 11-year-old boy, nicknamed "Podgy" despite his slim build, was in a play area in Gillingham, Kent, when the attack happened at about 7.30pm on Wednesday.
Kent police have arrested a 12-year-old boy. Alfred's aunt, Debbie Page, 37, said the boy being questioned by police came to her door and said: "You'd better go - Podgy's on fire." She added: "I rushed up there and Podgy's friend Aaron had already put the fire out, but Podgy was wearing a raincoat and his clothes underneath had melted on to his skin.
"I've never seen anything like it in my life. He was screaming, 'Auntie Debbie, Auntie Debbie', but I could not touch or hold him because he was in so much pain," she said.
Dave Hoare, 53, ran from the nearby Green Dragon pub when his son, Desmond, told him one boy had set fire to another. "I went up Christmas Street and the boy was on his own just walking towards me," he said. "I got someone to put a blanket round him and called the ambulance. On his legs all the skin was hanging off the back from his muscles.He just said, 'Can you help me?' He was dazed and by the time the ambulance came he was in shock."
Alfred, who was described by neighbours as a quiet boy, was taken to the Medway Maritime Hospital in Gillingham and later transferred to the specialist burns unit at Broomfield Hospital in Chelmsford, Essex. His condition was described as "critical but stable". His parents have kept a vigil by his bed.
Jim Frame, consultant plastic surgeon at the burns unit, said doctors expected the boy to survive. But he added: "It is estimated that he had 70 per cent full thickness skin burns. That means that the burns have gone through the skin and into the fatty layer underneath, which is very serious."
Alfred's uncle, Edward Lovell, praised two of Alfred's friends who put out the flames.
Rochester police appealed for witnesses to call 01634 827055. Officers are trying to establish whether the incident was an accident or deliberate.
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