A MAN appeared in court yesterday accused of setting fire to an RAF pilot who was dressed as a sheep at a fancy dress party.

Phillip John Buckingham has been charged with causing grievous bodily harm without intent at the function at RAF Linton-on-Ouse, near Easingwold, North Yorkshire.

The pilot, 26-year-old flying officer Martin Geraghty, suffered 13 per cent burns and has had to undergo skin grafts.

Mr Buckingham, of Fletton Avenue, in Peterborough, appeared at Northallerton Magistrates' Court yesterday, his 24th birthday.

Wearing a dark suit, striped tie and blue shirt, he spoke only to confirm his name, address and age.

Mr Buckingham is not a member of the RAF and is thought to have been a guest at the party.

David Tucker, prosecuting, told the court the charges arose from an incident at a pilot graduation ceremony held at the training base on November 23 last year.

Linton has been training pilots for 50 years and formal graduation ceremonies are held several times a year. In November, a fancy dress party with an agricultural theme was held after the ceremony.

Mr Geraghty was dressed as a sheep and his costume included a large quantity of cotton wool.

The party included a tradition whereby a piano was burnt and, while people were gathered round the blaze, a joke started about how inflammable the sheep costume was, the court heard.

Mr Buckingham is then alleged to have set fire to it using a cigarette lighter. Mr Geraghty suffered burns to his face, neck, shoulders, armpits, upper arms and the back of his legs.

He was taken to York District Hospital and then transferred to the specialist burns unit at Pinderfields Hospital, in Wakefield, West Yorkshire.

Mr Tucker described his injuries as being life-threatening.

Magistrates decided the allegations were too serious for them to deal with and declined jurisdiction.

Mr Buckingham, who went to court with his parents, made no plea and the case was adjourned until March 13 when he will return before Northallerton magistrates to be committed to crown court.