A man accused of pushing a police officer in the chest when a peaceful anti-vax protest turned disruptive has denied intentionally touching him.

Andrew Garner admitted grabbing the keys out of the ignition of a van bearing a pro-vaccination message after the driver remonstrated with protesters putting stickers on it while it was stuck in traffic.

The 65-year-old told jurors that he may have made inadvertent contact with the officer when he was being dragged around with one of his hands in cuffs.

Jurors watched CCTV footage showing PC Paul Crowley try to move Garner out of the way after he grabbed the keys out of the van and threw them onto a ledge outside Teesside Magistrates’ Court.

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It was when officers stepped in to arrest the defendant that the atmosphere changed in Middlesbrough town centre.

Giving evidence, Garner, who is one of three protestors are on trial for assaulting police officers, said he took the keys out of the van out of ‘mischief’ before tossing them away.

When asked whether he had pushed or punched PC Crowley, the defendant said: “I had my hand up when he first approached me, when he put the cuffs on me and started to pull me about by my arm.

“I didn’t do anything deliberately. It happened when they were pulling my hand about.”

Teesside Crown Court heard how other protestors swarmed around the officers as they tried to restore order.

Garner’s wife, Julie, then became involved when she tried to intervene and assaulted four officers by grabbing at their jackets while pushing or pulling them.

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The judge heard how the Garners were both arrested on the day of the protest in July 2021, and their co-accused was arrested when he was recognised at a similar protest in Newcastle the following month.

Mrs Garner, 60, of Chelmsford Avenue, Stockton, has pleaded not guilty to four charges of assaulting an emergency worker, her husband Andrew, of the same address has denied one charge of assaulting an emergency worker.

A third man, Malcolm Lewis, of Chepstow Gardens, Newcastle, also denies a single charge of assaulting an emergency worker following the protest on July 31, 2021.

The trial continues.