A MAN accused of murder claims partygoers who saw him walk up to a former boxer and plunge an axe in his head were lying.

Father-of-two David Sowerby said he had been trying to leave a New Year’s Eve party in Hartlepool to avoid a confrontation with former amateur middleweight Mark Denton when a fight broke out between the pair.

The 24-year-old defendant said he fell to the ground after being punched by Mr Denton, 31, and grabbed something to defend himself, not realising it was an axe.

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Giving evidence at Teesside Crown Court where he is standing trial for murder alongside his half-brother, Anthony Middleton, Mr Sowerby said: “We exchanged punches and I went down to the floor.

“I picked something up which was on the floor. I went to walk out of the door. He went to punch me again and I swung. I didn’t know what it was at the time. It was an axe - I swung it over my head.

“I was trying to walk out of the door. I thought I would get beat up and done in.”

Prosecutors claim Mr Sowerby, of Allerton Close, Hartlepool, went to the party armed with the axe in case he met Mr Denton, who had knocked him out months earlier following a row about a woman.

Jamie Hill, prosecuting, asked the defendant how, if a fight had taken place, did he only have a bruise on his head and a small cut on his leg when Mr Denton suffered 55 separate injuries, including 17 axe wounds.

“For someone who was scared, alone and unarmed taking on a professional boxer, do you think you did rather well?” Mr Hill asked.

“If Mr Denton had punched you just once you would not be in any state to get up with an axe.”

In reply, Mr Sowerby said he did not count how many times he hit Mr Denton with the axe.

“I was just scared,” he added.

Mr Hill said that partygoers had told the court they saw the defendant walk up to the victim and plunge the axe in his head without a punch being thrown.

“They’re lying,” Mr Sowerby replied.

The defendant also denied holding Mr Denton in a headlock and encouraging Mr Middleton, 21, of Bruntoft Avenue, Hartlepool, to hit him in the back with the axe.

Mr Sowerby claimed he and his half-brother each bought an axe about three weeks before the murder to use for camping and fishing.

Both men deny murder and the trial continues.