A local Santa Claus claims he was sacked after helping a collapsed elf who had suffered a panic attack.
Paul Harris, 65, said Christmas had been “ruined” after he got his marching orders from a shopping centre.
The grandfather, who has donned the white beard and red suit of Father Christmas for the past 15 years, said he was fired after one person complained because he held up the queue after a teenage elf collapsed.
He said the young girl had suffered a panic attack.
But Great Grottos, the events firm which ran the grotto in County Mall, Crawley, said Paul was not sacked because of the incident but rather because he took too long speaking to each child.
Paul, from Newhaven, said, “The poor girl came in screaming saying she couldn’t see.
“I said look, sit in Santa’s chair, and she started hyperventilating. I sat her down and we started trying to get her calm. I’ve been doing this business for a while now, so I know how stressful it can be at times, but she was struggling.
“I told the queue of people that I was dreadfully sorry but things have gone wrong.”
A County Mall spokesman said they understood one of the elves was taken unwell but the decision to sack Paul was unrelated to the incident.
The spokesman said, “Our understanding is that one of the elves took unwell.
“However, the grotto management company’s decision to let the Santa go was related to his general conduct rather than this specific incident.”
A spokesman for Great Grottos said no complaint had been made against Paul regarding the incident with the elf.
He said Paul was sacked because he took too long with each visit, which saw large queues form in the mall.
He added: “He took more than twice the recommended time for visits.
“As a result large queues built up and customers became impatient.
“Paul Harris refused to correct his visit lengths and we were forced to let him go.”
Paul added, “I love the job and was really starting to get into it.
“Everyone said I was a great Santa and I’d learnt all the names of the reindeer.
“More than anything it has hurt my pride – that’s what I get for trying to be nice, I suppose.
“Santa doesn’t usually get the sack until he gets the big one on Christmas Day.”
Paul is not the first Santa to get the push. In 2012 a Santa in Oxon was sacked after allegedly telling children Father Christmas was not real.