Judge commends trio who tackled hammer mugger

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THREE have-a-go heroes who tackled a desperate robber after he snatched a purse from an elderly woman in Leigh were all given awards for their public-spirited behaviour.

James Whittington, who was armed with a hammer, grabbed the purse from the 78-year-old victim while she waited at a bus stop in St Helens Road just two days after carrying out an off-licence raid.

Liverpool Crown Court heard that the victim, who felt like she was going to have a heart attack, screamed and he ran off with her purse, containing £25.

Two women saw him and rang the police. One of them, Nicola Whittaker, ran after him and managed to grab him and order him to give her the purse.

But after he produced a hammer from a plastic bag and after he started waving it around she feared she was going to be struck and let him go.

The 38-year-old, who had taken a cocktail of drink and drugs, walked off but motorist David Thomas stopped his car to ask Ms Whittaker what had been happening and when told drove off after him.

When he drew level he grabbed Whittington through his open window and his wife, Rebecca, reached over from the passenger seat and disarmed him.

Whittington handed over the purse and ran away but 24-year-old Mr Thomas followed in his car and his wife, 22, and his mother, followed on foot.

When Whittington reached his home Mr Thomas got out and grabbed him. Whittington lunged at him with a set of keys but Mr Thomas threw him to the ground and restrained him until the police arrived, said Harry Pepper, prosecuting.

After jailing him for three years four months Judge Graham Morrow, QC, awarded Mr Thomas, a taxi driver, £250 from public funds and £200 to his wife, who hurt her hand in the incident, and Ms Whittaker.

He said he was doing so to mark their bravery and to encourage others to act in such a positive way for the community.

Whittington, of Carders Lane, Leigh, pleaded guilty to robbing Tickles off licence in Oak Street, Leigh, of £45 on November 10, theft and possessing an offensive weapon.

The court heard that the robbery offence occurred at 8.45pm on November 10 when he walked into the off-licence and demanded the assistant hand over cash.

He had placed a carrier bag on the counter and kept his hand in it which made her fear he might be armed, said Mr Pepper.

She opened the till and gave him the £45 contents and he left. She was uninjured but was left scared and has since changed her working hours so she would not be in the shop at times she would feel vulnerable.

Philip Martin, defending, said that Whittington had acted out of stupidity and has since expressed genuine remorse. He had committed the offences out of financial desperation.

The court heard that Whittington had taken a cocktail of heroin, valium and alcohol and was later shocked at his behaviour and has written letters of apology to his victims. He committed the offences because he had significant debts.