Spatula ‘joke’ costs Hartlepool businessman £16k

BIG BILL: Brian Morton.
BIG BILL: Brian Morton.

A PROMINENT Hartlepool businessman faces a hefty legal bill after a court heard how he held what was claimed to be either a spatula or a butcher’s cleaver near to the face of a betting shop cashier.

But the “joke” by town entrepreneur Brian Morton – who owns the Staincliffe and the Sports Domes – backfired and landed him in court.

Lynne Waites, who was on the receiving end of Mr Morton’s stunt, claimed the incident left her with “significant psychological problems, flashbacks and disturbed sleep”, and on anti-depressants.

There court heard there was a dispute between the two over the description of the implement, with Mr Morton claiming it was a “clean spatula which had been used to spread butter or pease pudding”, but which Miss Waites said was a blood-stained “butcher’s knife or cleaver”.

Mr Morton was questioned about the incident by police, but no criminal charges were brought.

So instead Miss Waites, of Milbank Road, Hartlepool, brought the civil action which was heard yesterday at Teesside Combined Court in Middlesbrough before Deputy District Judge Glenday.

The court heard Mr Morton was a regular customer at Coral bookmakers, in Wiltshire Way, where he would regularly bet large sums of money on horses and dogs.

But on Friday, February 17, 2012, Mr Morton was having a “bad day” and had lost a number of bets when he went into a sandwich shop next door to the bookies to buy a sandwich.

He returned with an implement. He announced to the shop as a joke that he wanted to “slit” his wrists with the implement, before walking up to counter where Miss Waites was working.

Miss Waites’ barrister Gerry Heap said: “Having produced it, he held it close to her face as she stood behind the counter and said ‘give us all your money or words to that effect’.

“Mr Morton probably saw that holding a bladed weapon to Miss Waites’ face and demanding all her money was a practical joke.

“It certainly wasn’t any attempt to extract money from her.

“But that, I say, is not the point. It was an action which she saw as a genuine and serious threat to her safety.”

Mr Heap said following the incident Miss Waites is still seeking further psychological treatment which is “not the mark of someone who seen the incident as a joke”.

Mr Morton, of Close Farm, Wolviston, accepted he did carry out the “joke” but said Miss Waites was “trying it on” to gain money out of him and that she herself laughed when he committed the prank.

He represented himself in court and said: “In hindsight I didn’t realise she would be upset by the incident.

“It was a spatula for making sandwiches, it certainly wasn’t blood-stained because it had been used for spreading pease pudding, and I didn’t hold it to anyone’s face.

“She’s using it as a vehicle to obtain some money, and I’m still of that opinion. If she didn’t think I had any money, would I be stood in court today.”

He also said: “If I had enough money to hire a solicitor I would have hired a solicitor, I can’t afford to hire a solicitor.”

After hearing guidelines on other cases of this nature, the judge ruled that Mr Morton should pay a total of £16,106, which was described as general damages, special damages and added interest.

It was then revealed in court that Corals had offered a £5,000 settlement for their failings in the incident, which included the way they handled the incident as Miss Waites’ employer.

That lump sum, which was agreed prior to the hearing, was taken from the sum ordered to be paid by Mr Morton.

But further discussions will now take place between Miss Waites’ legal team, Mr Morton and Corals to determine how the costs of the case are paid for.

That figure was not revealed in court, but the Mail understands the total bill could be in excess of £70,000.

After the hearing, Miss Waites said she was glad her two-year “nightmare” was over.

She said: “I am relieved that the court case is out of the way, but that doesn’t stop the flashbacks and the sickness and everything else I have had to put up with.

“It has been hell.

“I’ve worked for Corals for 13 years and I’ve never experienced anything like this before. I hope I can move on now.

“It is still vivid to me, especially after having to go through it all in court and be cross-examined by him.

“It isn’t nice being bad-mouthed in a courtroom and to hear I was doing it for the money.

“I just wanted him to realise the seriousness of what he had done.”