A DRUNKEN teenager who set fire to a pensioner's hair to prove he wasn't "boring" was locked up for two years yesterday.

Philip Wooton, held a lighter to 82-year-old Elizabeth Collins' head after sitting behind her on a Metro train travelling towards Sunderland, Wearside, on June 18.

Newcastle Crown Court heard how Ms Collins was spared serious injury by fellow passengers jumping to her aid and patting out the flames. But when the startled pensioner asked her attacker why he had done it the heartless-18-year-old told her: "Because I felt like it."

A judge at Newcastle Crown Court yesterday branded the assault "nasty and vicious" and said nothing other than custody could possibly be justified.

Prosecutor Paul Currer told the court how Wooton boarded the train, going from Heworth to Sunderland, with a pal but after what appeared to be a row he stormed off and sat behind Ms Collins.

Mr Currer told the court; "At this point quite inexplicably the defendant took a cigarette lighter and used it to ignite Ms Collins' hair from behind her.

"Fortunately another passenger intervened, a lady who was profoundly deaf.

"Seeing what happened she shouted for him to stop and patted down the flames with her hand to extinguish them.

"At first Ms Collins thought she was being attacked by the woman then she realised what had happened and felt intense heat on the back of her head and was extremely distressed."

The court heard how horrified passengers told the train driver what had happened and the Metro came to a halt until police arrived.

Wooton fled the scene after answering Ms Collins question about why he had done it with: "Because I felt like it."

The court heard how Wooton eventually handed himself in to police after CCTV images of the attack were used in press appeals.

Defence barrister Bob Spragg told the court how Wooton, who has no previous convictions but one reprimand and one warning, had started drinking at the age of 13 and was having a number of litres of cider every day by the age of 17.

Mr Spragg added: "It was an idiotic prank, apparently in alcohol to impress his friend who had accused him of being boring.

"He makes no excuses whatsoever for this and he takes full responsibility."

Mr Spragg said Wooton has stopped drinking since the attack and his actions that day have brought him "to his senses".

Mr Spragg said; "There seems to have been a complete change in this young man's attitude and behaviour."

But Mr Recorder Sean Morris said no sentence other than custody could possibly be justified.

The judge told Wooton: "I'm afraid I regard the nature of this offence as so serious that only a custodial sentence can be justified.

"The public would be rightly horrified if the courts did not lock people up who picked on vulnerable people on public transport.

"That lady was 82 years of age, she's got every right as a senior citizen to expect respect and not to have some yobbish behaviour meted out to her and having her hair set on fire.

"Had it not been for the actions of that other lady she would have received some very nasty injuries indeed and been hospitalised.

"When elderly people are hospitalised it very often leads to complications and the results could have been a lot worse."

Judge Morris sentenced Wooton to two years in a young offenders institution. Wooton, of Rivermede, Fatfield, Washington, admitted assault at an earlier hearing.