SHOPPERS screamed in horror when they saw a rat walking under tables at a shopping centre cafe.
Bosses at Middleton Grange Shopping Centre, in Hartlepool, are now investigating and have upped pest control following the incident.
It comes after shopper Catherine Burgon said she was sitting having a drink in the Nacita’s coffee shop in the centre when she felt something walking over her foot.
She looked down and spotted a rat which scurried over a bag on the floor belonging to Catherine’s 87-year-old friend before heading towards the nearby Primark store.
Centre bosses say they treat incidents like this very seriously and they believe it was isolated, rather than an “epidemic” and there is no evidence the rat came from within the centre.
Catherine, 51, from Seaton Carew, said: “I saw something out of the corner of my eye, looked down and there was this rat running over my foot.
“It came underneath our table and it just walked to the next table, it wasn’t running about.
“Me and my friend said ‘oh my God, look at that rat’.
“Another woman saw it and pulled her seat up and two mums with kids in pushchairs were frightened.
“They screamed and then the rat started running about and ran over to near Primark where about seven students were stood and the girls screamed.”
Catherine, mum to Jonathan, 23, and 15-year-old Joe, said she did not see where the rat went after that and staff from the coffee shop who had been made aware of the incident rang centre management.
“I must stress the coffee shop floor was spotless, I can’t fault them in any of this and I wouldn’t want it to put people off going for a coffee there,” added Catherine.
“Me and my friend aren’t scared of rats, but they’re unhygienic and I hope that if any kids drop a lolly or sweets on the floor they don’t pick them up.”
Centre manager Mark Rycraft said: “We treat incidents like this very seriously and don’t accept them as the norm.
“This reported incident was dealt with immediately and unfortunately rats can get into the smallest holes, there’s no evidence it came from within the centre.
“While one particular incident can happen at that point in time and cause concern, we don’t believe there is an epidemic.
“We use pest control in back-of-house areas and while we believe that’s effective, that doesn’t actually demonstrate there’s a problem.”