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 put out the flames when a shocked and badly burnt Alfred Page staggered towards them, crying: "Can you help me?"
The 11-year-old boy, nicknamed "Podgy" despite his slim build, was playing on a play area in Gillingham, Kent, when the incident happened at about 7.30pm on Wednesday.
Kent police arrested a 12-year-old boy in connection with the incident.
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 him or hold him because he was in so much pain."
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."
Alfred, who was described by neighbours as a quiet and pleasant boy, was taken to the Medway Maritime Hospital in Gillingham and later transferred to the specialist burns unit at Broomfield Hospital in Chelmsford, Essex, where his condition was described as "critical but stable". His parents have maintained a vigil at his bedside.
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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