A PETROL station worker who rushed to the aid of a disabled customer who was the victim of an unprovoked attack on the forecourt has been honoured by the police.

A man in a wheelchair was buying wine and cigarettes from the night counter at Snax 24, in Northgate, Darlington, at about 6am on May 12 last year when Adam Mackay struck up a conversation with him.

After he refused to give him a cigarette, 25-year-old Mackay struck the man on the head and began kicking him and stealing his purchases.

When shop worker Rita Freeman rushed out to try to help, she too was threatened and struck across the head, and when her glasses fell to the ground, Mackay stamped on them before making off.

Mackay, of Pleasant View, Darlington, was jailed for a year after he admitted charges of affray and theft at Teesside Crown Court last year.

Speaking at a presentation at Darlington police station today (Thursday, February 6) in which she received a Chief Superintendent’s Commendation, Mrs Freeman said: “I wasn’t going to let a person hit a disabled man.

“I didn’t have time to think, I just went out there and helped. He kept hitting me and he had hold of a bottle, I thought he was going to hit me with it.”

After the attack the mother-of-two went home, found a new pair of glasses and returned to work.

“The police have been brilliant, and I want to thank everyone who has helped me after the attack – I really didn’t expect to be given an award,” she said.

Chief Inspector Vicki Martin said she believes if Mrs Freeman had not stepped in, the disabled man would have been seriously injured.

She said: “There is no two ways about it, she has been incredibly brave - she put somebody else’s safety before hers.

“This disabled man needed help and she stepped in, and even when she was threatened and he smashed her glasses she didn’t give up.

“Incidents like these are out of the ordinary, even for Darlington town centre, it is fantastic what she did.”

Detective Constable Tony Kent, of Darlington police, said: “Rita is a very quiet woman who doesn’t like to get involved in things but she has been extremely brave as this was a determined young man who was determined to get what he wanted.”