British 'shark hero' sacked for being on sick leave

LONDON (AFP) - A British man hailed as a hero for wrestling a shark away from an Australian beach said on Tuesday he had been sacked after it emerged that he was on sick leave at the time.

Mr Paul Marshallsea, a 62-year-old charity worker from Wales, won praise in January when he ran into the sea near Brisbane to grapple with the 1.8 metre shark, fearing it would attack paddling children.

A local television crew caught the incident on camera and images of him pulling the creature away from the beach were beamed around the world.

But they also caught the eye of his employers, the Pant and Dowlais Boys' and Girls' Club children's charity - who were not pleased to see Mr Marshallsea on the beach when he was on sick leave with stress.

Mr Marshallsea says he and his wife Wendy - who also worked for the charity and was also on sick leave when they went on holiday - returned to their home in the town of Merthyr Tydfil to find letters informing them that they had been fired.

"Where do I now get a job? There's not much call for shark wrestlers in Merthyr Tydfil," he told the WalesOnline website.

The father-of-three said he was "disgusted" by how the charity has treated them, arguing that doctors had advised the couple to go on holiday to cope with stress.

"If I hadn't gone in to save the kids on that beach that day my wife and I would still have a job," he said.

"You think being in charge and running a children's charity, they would have tapped me on the back."

Mr Marshallsea worked as a project manager for the charity while his wife was a senior youth worker. Both had been on sick leave with work-related stress since last April.

The charity's letter to Mr Marshallsea said: "Whilst unfit to work you were well enough to travel to Australia and, according to recent news footage of yourself in Queensland, you allegedly grabbed a shark by the tail and narrowly missed being bitten by quickly jumping out of the way."

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