A SELFLESS hero has been praised by police after he prevented a vulnerable man from setting himself on fire in the city centre.

Ian Collins watched the "suicidal" man douse himself in petrol while sitting on a bench in Cathedral Square, Worcester, but managed to kick away his lighter and bag and prevent potentially catastrophic injuries.

The 26-year-old said he had sat with the distressed man to keep him calm with police on their way – but after officers arrived he was spooked and showered himself in petrol, having admitted he'd set himself alight before.

Following the incident, he was sent a letter by South Worcestershire Superintendent Damian Pettit thanking him for his “brave intervention”.

“It is always pleasing for me to know that I can rely on members of the public for help in such situations and I am very grateful for your support on this occasion,” he added.

Mr Collins was parked just off the plaza outside Pizza Express on October 24 when he noticed a man move over to one of the benches and begin to get undressed.

He said the man took off his jumper, and he assumed he was getting changed, but admitted it was “a bit weird” when he also removed his trousers.

Mr Collins had just finished work at Yamazaki Mazak and was waiting to collect his girlfriend Kenny Makhanya from her job at Miller & Carter, arriving at around 11.15pm.

“As I turned up, he just walked to the bench and sat down. He took his jumper off, I thought he was getting changed,” said Mr Collins, who lives off Rainbow Hill.

“Then he took his trousers off. I kept my eye on him, thinking: 'what’s going on?'”

Another man went over to see if the man was okay, before approaching Mr Collins’ car window to check if he’d called 999 – which he hadn’t – then called the emergency services himself.

Mr Collins and Ms Makhanya approached the vulnerable man, who they estimated was in his mid-50s, and found he had a petrol can full of fuel next to him and three packets of paracetamol.

The man had been drinking and had “past burns” on his skin and “one hand and fingers missing”.

Mr Collins said on seeing the fuel and realising the man was suicidal, he told his partner to walk down to Tesco and wait for him.

“He was obviously drunk, but he was very calm. I got him to tell me about his day.

“He [said he’d] lost his wife and lost the house and things like that. He’d done it [set himself alight] a couple of times before.

“He’d petrol bombed himself before. I just wanted to make sure he didn’t get too irate until the police came.”

Mr Collins said five minutes later officers arrived and “were coming from all angles”.

“I kept talking to him to try keep his attention off them and keep him looking at me.”

However, he said the man suddenly saw one officer getting closer and “showered himself” in the petrol.

“As he was doing that, I kicked the lighter away from him.”

Mr Collins described around 15 police officers at the scene, as well as a fire crew and ambulance, and Cathedral Square security staff.

He said the man “was not fond of the police” and “wanted to resist” when they approached.

“When they arrived, he gave one officer a bit of abuse. He stood up and was angry about it all and they wrestled him to the ground. He put up a good fight.”

Looking back on the incident, Mr Collins said: “I just felt bad for him, obviously he’s in a dark place and I wanted to see he was okay. Thankfully, I got the lighter away. The intention was there, he’d done it before.”

In his letter, dated October 30, Supt Pettit said: “This must have been extremely distressing for both you and your partner to witness.”

He went on to praise Mr Collins for continuing to engage the man “even though he rebuffed your efforts” and for bravely kicking away the lighter and man’s bag from the scene.

“Were it not for your brave intervention the incident could have resulted in very serious consequences for both yourself and the male,” he added.

If you are suffering with suicidal thoughts, you can contact Samaritans in confidence for free from any phone on 116 123, even a mobile without credit.

Or you can email jo@samaritans.org or go to www.samaritans.org to find details of your local branch of Samaritans where you can talk to one of its volunteers face to face.