Kettering woman wrestled knife-wielding thief

Kayleigh Willis has won an award for her bravery.
Kayleigh Willis has won an award for her bravery.

An unflappable Kettering woman sent a knife-wielding thief packing – before making her shaken colleagues a brew.

Kayleigh Willis has won a High Sheriff’s Award for her actions at the Hallwood Road Co-Op, where she worked as a team leader.

L-R: Zadia Usman (CPS), Kayleigh Willis, the High Sheriff, and Superintendent Mark Behan (Northamptonshire Police). NNL-181017-112109005

L-R: Zadia Usman (CPS), Kayleigh Willis, the High Sheriff, and Superintendent Mark Behan (Northamptonshire Police). NNL-181017-112109005

Just minutes after the store opened at 7am on March 22, Christopher Smith was spotted on CCTV stealing about £50 worth of steaks.

When 24-year-old Kayleigh confronted him he pulled out a knife and threatened her. After Kayleigh wrestled him and retrieved the stolen goods, he fled the store.

Kayleigh said: “I didn’t really think about it until afterwards, I just kind of did it.

“You never know what they’d do for a bit of steak but it was the principle of not letting him get away with it.

Kayleigh Willis has won an award for her bravery.

Kayleigh Willis has won an award for her bravery.

“I just stood my ground and didn’t let him have it.”

Being threatened with a knife would be enough to scare the living daylights out of most.

But Kayleigh said hundreds of incidents of shoplifting, many by armed thieves, and several robberies meant she was ‘almost used to it’.

Her colleagues on the other hand were quite shaken by the incident – so Kayleigh made them a round of tea to calm them down while she was on the phone to the police.

She said: “My colleagues were all a bit shaky.

“I ended up just taking them out to the back and getting them a cup of tea and made sure there was two sugars in it.”

Smith, 33, was forced to retreat inside the store after Kayleigh demanded he return the meat from his bag.

He produced the knife and threatened her, telling her to let him go before they wrestled over the stolen goods.

After she removed the goods from him he fled the scene.

Smith, of Cardigan Place in Kettering, was later arrested and charged with attempted theft from a shop and possessing an offensive article in a public place.

In June he was jailed at Northampton Crown Court for eight months, suspended for two years, for the offences and separate charges of possessing an article with a blade or point and theft.

Kayleigh was given the High Sheriff’s Award and a cash award of £250 by sentencing judge HHJ Lucking QC.

A modest Kayleigh, who now works as a healthcare assistant at St Andrew’s Hospital in Northampton, said: “I’m so desensitised to it I didn’t even see it as a big deal.

“I’ve been a little bit embarrassed by it all to be quite honest.”

In her citation Judge Lucking said Kayleigh showed tremendous courage.

She said: “Kayleigh Willis demonstrated a robust strength of character and great courage throughout the incident in tackling a man armed with a knife.

“She is to be commended for her bravery by a High Sheriff’s Award.”

Det Supt Mark Behan, from Northamptonshire Police, said: “In a very frightening situation where it would have much easier for her to turn the other way, Kayleigh Willis confronted this man and proved herself to be a resolute, public spirited and tenacious individual.

“She showed tremendous bravery in tackling this man and I was delighted to be present to see Kayleigh receive her award from the High Sheriff which appropriately recognised the courage she displayed that day.

“As a force, Northamptonshire Police is always grateful for any assistance members of the public give us in order to bring offenders to justice so I would also like to thank Kayleigh for her help in securing a conviction against this man.”