A STRANDED customer who was forced to sleep overnight at a department store following the winter chaos on the roads has thanked a St Albans woman for providing the shelter.

Deborah Strazza, managing director of John Lewis in High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, allowed 54 staff, 30 adult customers and 20 children to sleep in the display beds in the store and provided food when she realised the surrounding roads were impassable. The mother-of-two, who lives in Tippendell Road, Park Street, was also forced to camp down overnight, and despite not getting one wink of sleep, she was up bright and early covering this morning's shift.

Jason Pitt and his four-year-old son George were among the shoppers unable to get home in the arctic conditions and took refuge in the shop.

He wrote to the store's staff: "I am writing to publicly express my thanks to the staff of John Lewis in High Wycombe, expertly led by Deborah Strazza the store manager,during our enforced sleep-over on Monday night.

"My four-year-old son George and I were stranded in the store during the blizzard on Monday afternoon and it soon became obvious that were were going to be there for some time.

"Mrs Strazza and her staff calmly made arrangements for around 100 shoppers and many staff to remain in the canteen beyond the usual closing time.

"We were served tea, coffee, soup and cake and then given free access to the other food and drink available as often as we wished.

"A number of children's toys from the store kept around 20 young children occupied as nervous adults looked on.

"We were given regular updates of the traffic and weather situation and Deborah and her team advised us of the best course of action, based on reports from many staff who set off into the snow on foot to gather information.

"In the end, several of us with young children opted to stay rather than risk spending the night in the car and we were glad we did - we were given double beds with new duvets and pillows opened from stock and free access to children's books to help get our little ones to sleep.

"I was woken early by the GMTV cameraman but not in time to stop a rather embarrassing image of me asleep making it onto the national news, but that was a small price to pay.

"After tea and toast we were helped out to our cars and shown genuine concern for our welfare as we set off on our slippery journey home.

"We always seem to hear about the companies that abandon their customers in times of need but I would like it put on record that John Lewis more than lived up to their reputation last night and for that we are extremely grateful.

"With thanks and best wishes, Jason and George Pitt."

Deborah told the Review: "I'd like to think most people in my position would do the same thing, I don't feel like a hero."