This is how Reggie Wharton’s story appeared in the DAILY MAIL newspaper.
Shop hero sued for compensation
By ALISON SMITH SQUIRE
UPDATED: 00:45, 28 January 2012
A have-a-go hero who intervened when a suspected shoplifting incident turned nasty has found himself on the receiving end of a compensation claim.
The drama began when a former heroin addict with two knives in his waistband was stopped by a security guard after setting off the alarms as he left a busy branch of Boots.
As he was being taken back into the store, he became aggressive. At the same time, a second man seemed to be rushing to join him.
It was then shopper Reginald Wharton went to the aid of the outnumbered security guard, trying to calm the second man – who was feared to be an accomplice – before wrestling him to the ground.
Police arrested the suspected shoplifter and accomplice, and the Boots manager thanked Mr Wharton for his bravery.
But more than a year after the incident Mr Wharton faces a legal nightmare after receiving a lawyer’s letter seeking compensation for an injured elbow from the man he wrestled to the floor.
Mr Wharton, 31, said: ‘If I hadn’t stepped in someone could have been stabbed. I can’t believe the justice system in our country allows anyone to sue like this. I face the devastating possibility of being sued for thousands of pounds.’
He was in Boots in Torquay, Devon, with his four-year-old twins in November 2010 when recovering heroin addict Justin Birt, 30, was detained for shoplifting.
It was when he began arguing with the security guard that the man assumed to be his accomplice, Phillip McCarthy, became involved.
Mr Wharton, a painter and decorator who is due to marry his fiancee Kelly, 25, a banking adviser, next year, said: ‘The man [Birt] became aggressive, and at the same time a man I took to be his accomplice appeared from nowhere and roughly grabbed hold of the security guard by his left arm.
‘The store was packed with shoppers, mostly families with young children, and the apparent accomplice was swearing loudly at the security guard. Instinctively I stepped in front of the man and asked him to calm down.’
But he said the man began shouting more and eventually he had to grapple him to the floor. ‘I’ve worked as trained security guard myself and have learnt the proper way to put someone on the ground without hurting them,’ he said.
Birt, 30, later pleaded guilty to possession of two knives, a serrated bread knife and a meat knife. He was not charged with shoplifting. Mr McCarthy was arrested for a public order offence and questioned. He was not charged.
Mr Wharton believed that was the end of the matter. But last week he received a letter from personal injury lawyers Almy & Thomas saying that under a no-win, no-fee agreement they had been instructed by Mr McCarthy to sue for damages and costs. The letter said he had injured his left elbow, which needed treatment at the police station.
Mr Wharton said: ‘My partner and I are so worried that we will be sued for tens of thousands of pounds, we have decided to postpone our wedding. We couldn’t afford to pay that sort of money.’
Mr McCarthy is also suing Boots and the security guard. He claims CCTV of the incident shows he was maltreated. Boots denies liability.