A POLICE officer with a martial arts background is offering free classes in self-defence.

PC Neil Walton, of Durham Police, is a martial arts black belt and will be instructing people in how to defend themselves from knife-wielding members of the public.

The experienced trainer will be putting on courses in Darlington for 999 workers as well as an additional course for the public.

The classes will equip participants with basic self-defence techniques, avoidance, awareness and breakaway techniques, and knowledge of danger and warning signs.

Starting at the age of five, PC Walton has numerous black belts and instructor ranks in several martial arts, has fought internationally in Thai boxing, and has served as a police personal safety trainer.

He is also ranked as an expert in Krav Maga, a military self-defence system, after training in Israel.

Last year, PC Walton put on a series of of popular women-only classes .

This year, a women's class will take place on September 21 in Darlington's Dolphin Centre, while a session for men will follow a 999 workers' class the following day.

The emergency services session, on September 22, is also available to social workers and council staff.

Pc Walton said last year's popularity inspired him to create additional sessions for other members of the public.

He said: "We were overwhelmed with the response to last year's class and places filled up really quickly, so we wanted to give those who missed out the chance to attend another class.

"As a result of feedback from last year's event, we have also introduced a men's session this year, as well as a special one-off session for emergency service workers who work with members of the public.

"The free sessions were started after we spoke to members of the public at community engagement events who said they were interested in learning self-defence and personal safety techniques.

"I'd like to reassure people that these events have not been organised in response to any increase in crime.

"We are simply providing something that we think will be beneficial to the people of Darlington and will give them useful skills to keep themselves safe."