Minister's driver denies panicking during protest

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A WELSH OFFICE employee who used his car to 'extricate' his minister from a confrontation with Welsh-language demonstrators denied in court that he had panicked and deliberately tried to dislodge a protester from the bonnet of the moving vehicle.

Alan Thomas, senior press officer at the Welsh Office, said 'certainly not' when asked in the High Court in London yesterday if he had intended to throw Steffan Webb off the car.

Asked if he had panicked when his Audi car was surrounded by demonstrators, Mr Thomas said: 'No, I am not the panicking type.'

Mr Thomas and his government employers are accused in a civil action of negligent driving and assault during the incident, in which Mr Webb, now 33, suffered ankle and wrist fractures after sitting on the bonnet of the car containing Sir Wyn Roberts, then Under-secretary of State for Wales

Mr Webb, of Roath, Cardiff, who was South Wales organiser of the Welsh Language Society at the time of the incident in April 1986, is suing Mr Thomas and the Welsh Office for damages, which have been agreed at more than pounds 9,270 subject to liability. The defence pleads that Mr Webb is not entitled to compensation because he put himself at risk of injury. The incident occurred at the Polytechnic of Wales, Treforest, after Sir Wyn, now Minister of State at the Welsh Office, had addressed a conference there. Sir Wyn had abandoned his official car to be taken back to Cardiff by Mr Thomas. Mr Webb fell as the car left the college's car park.

Mr Thomas told Judge Zucker in London that as the minister left, it was obvious that his official white Rover car was blocked. Mr Thomas went on: 'My concern was for the minister. He was obviously isolated and it was clear the demonstrators would go for him.'

He decided to proceed as quickly as possible out of the car park with Sir Wyn in his private car. As he drove, one demonstrator jumped on to his bonnet, but came off. After he had veered to avoid him and straightened up, Mr Webb, who was also on the bonnet on the driver's side, fell off. Mr Thomas insisted he was driving at under 10mph.

Replying to Wyn Williams QC, for Mr Webb, he said he had not contacted the police because he had thought the possibility of people sitting in front of his car was remote.

Judge Zucker reserved judgment on the case until Friday.