"Terrified" children were burned by falling fireworks as a pyrotechnic display at Croydon's Christmas lights switch-on went awry last night.

Furious parents claimed the display "nearly started a riot" as families were showered with burning embers in the town centre.

Hundreds of people gathered in North End to watch Fairfield Halls pantomime star Stephen Mulhern switch on this year's festive illuminations.

Witnesses said the fireworks, organised by Croydon BID, "didn't go off right", leading to several children being hurt.

It is thought the rockets, which were let off from the roof of Centrale shopping centre, did not rise high enough for the embers to burn out on their descent.

Erica Fisher, 25, of Waddon, said sparks rained down on her 16-week-old baby's buggy and her five-year-old son Rafael was burned on the neck as he crouched in fear trying to shelter.

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Rafael Templeman, five, was burned by embers that seared through his jacket

She said: "When the lights came on the had a fireworks display and they had fireballs. The fireworks didn't go off right and hit loads of children. 

A video of the fireworks display last night in Croydon town centre

"[Rafael] got hit on the neck and it went through his jacket and burnt his skin. He was screaming. Everyone was trying to get away from it. He was terrified."

Rafael was treated by paramedics in the Whitgift Centre, where his mum said she saw about 15 other people injured.

She added: "[The organisers] didn't apologise or anything. I am furious."

A London Ambulance Services spokesman said they treated three people at the scene for minor injuries, with two taken to hospital. 

Others were given first aid by St John's Ambulance volunteers.

Geoff Dunn, who was watching the display with his wife, said most of the embers fell near the back of the stage on which live music acts had performed during the day.

The 60-year-old, of South Croydon, added: "For whatever reason, several of the fireworks did not appear to go high enough for their fallout to burn out before hitting the ground as we could see several hot cinders on the ground.

"Several children were burnt and one landed on my wife’s head although fortunately she did not need treatment which is more than can be said for the children."

Magdalena Parker, 31, of South Croydon, was watching the display with four-year-old daughter Zofia when "hot stones" rained down upon them.

She said: "It was all fine when the fireworks started but at some point it was all different  - they didn't look or sound like normal fireworks.

"I took my camera out to take pictures and I had to stop because I was getting hit by those little hot stones. I put my daughter's hood up and put my hands over her face as well.

"People were running off. For a few seconds I didn't know what was going on so I was worried."

Other witnesses took to Twitter to complain of "bad health and safety planning” and claimed the fireworks "nearly started a riot from bad" as people fled the falling sparks.

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Angry: Erica Fisher and her sons Carlo, six, Rafael, and Andre, 16 weeks, were showered with sparks from fireworks

Croydon BID said it was "deeply concerned and sorry to learn that a number of injuries occurred following the pyrotechnics finale".

Its statement added: "First aid assistance was swiftly provided, where needed, to all those concerned.

"The safety and security of everyone in Croydon town centre is of paramount importance to us. It is highly regrettable therefore that, what was by any standards, a great event should be marred in this way.

"A full investigation is already under way and we are working together with Croydon Council and all relevant parties to establish precisely how this incident occurred.

"Our thoughts continue to be with those who were injured and we wish them all a speedy recovery."

Croydon BID said the fireworks were organised by a company called Dragonfire Ltd. 

When contacted by the Croydon Guardian, a staff member at Dragonfire said: "We’re in the middle of checking everything at the moment. We’re just as shocked as anybody else. We weren’t expecting that at all.”

Were you at the fireworks display? Call the newsdesk on 0208 722 6351 or email chris.baynes@london.newsquest.co.uk