A VAN driver who smashed into a road sign, badly injuring a pedestrian, told a jury that he drove dangerously because he was in fear for his life.

Louise Owen, aged 39, was with her sons, aged five and 18, on Albert Road, Farnworth when Daniel Gardner’s Renault Trafic van rounded the corner on the pavement and struck the sign, which toppled onto her head.

Ms Owen suffered serious head injuries and spent three weeks in hospital with bleeding on her brain and multiple skull and facial fractures.

Gardner, aged 32, is accused of causing serious injury by dangerous driving on January 15 last year. He has pleaded not guilty, claiming that, although his driving was dangerous, he was under duress at the time.

Giving evidence in his own defence at Bolton Crown Court he stressed that he did not know anyone had been hurt when he drove off without stopping and was afraid of being attacked by men in a truck which he had just damaged.

Gardner’s van had hit a recovery truck’s wing mirror, but he did not stop to exchange insurance details and it followed him.

“I should have stopped but I didn’t,” Gardner admitted to the court.

Gardner, of Moorfield Grove, Bolton told the jury that he was frightened when men in the truck got out of their vehicle and tried to open his van doors.

“I was scared. I am not going to lie,” he added.

The roller shutter engineer said one of the men was “irate and aggressive”.

“I told him to calm down and I’ll give you my insurance details,” said Gardner.

But he then alleged that one of the men pulled out a kitchen knife.

“I was really panicking then. I just put my foot down and went, “ said Gardner.

“If I had got out they would have either beat me bad or stabbed me.”

The court heard how he mounted the pavement and tried to squeeze between a shop wall and a car at the junction in front of him, before heading off along Albert Road at just after 3.45pm.

Rob Hall, prosecuting, questioned Gardner about why he did not head straight to the police station or call 999.

The court heard how the driver abandoned the van, which had a damaged tyre due to the collision with the sign, half a mile away in Presto Street, and walked to his girlfriend’s home in Little Hulton.

Police found it less than 45 minutes later and managed to trace it to the company Gardner worked for

Gardner claimed that he could not call police for help following the incident as his phone battery had died, but during cross-examination, he admitted that, shortly after parking the van, he made calls to a friend in a bid to get him to collect him and spoke to his girlfriend’s sister.

While at his girlfriend’s home Gardner received a phone call from his boss at 5.38pm to say police were enquiring about a collision the van had been in.

Then, at just before 6.10pm, Gardner called 101 to report that he had been threatened by a man with a knife following a collision.

The trial continues.