A POLICE officer has told how he owes his life to a motorist he had pulled over when he warned him to dive to safety as a van ploughed into the back of his patrol car.

Traffic cop Andrew Overton suffered injuries he described as "catastrophic" when a victim personal statement from him was read in Teesside Crown Court.

The PC, who has 15 years experience on the road policing team and thousands of incidents in his career, said he used to always feel safe at work - but no longer does.

Drink-driver Lee Thompson simply did not see the BMW patrol car with lights flashing parked behind an Audi A3 on the inside lane of the A1027 Billingham bypass, Teesside.

His lawyer, Graham Silvester, said the kitchen fitter could have moved into the empty outside lane of the dual-carriageway, but added: "He cannot explain how it happened."

Mr Silvester added: "It is difficult to explain the inexplicable. This is a man of 30 who has been driving since he was 17 and done considerable mileage in job.

"He has genuine remorse and, through me, apologises to the officer for what happened. He accepts he has done wrong, but he is a decent citizen."

Thompson, of Kings Road, Wingate, County Durham, was returning home from visiting a female friend when the accident happened on June 14 last year.

Prosecutor Harry Hadfield told the court that the Ford Transit ploughed into the back of the BMW while PC Overton spoke to the Audi driver in a gap between their cars.

The officer had his back to the van heading towards them, but the motorist was facing it and shouted a warning, so he leapt to safety towards the kerb.

He said he remembered putting his hands to his head to protect himself when he realised there was going to be a collision, and next remembered being on the footpath.

The officer suffered a fractured bone in his heel, an injury to his head, tenderness to his abdomen and both knees, and "excruciating" pain to his right foot and ankle.

In his impact statement, he said "I owe my life to the driver of the vehicle I stopped. If he had not shouted 'watch out, watch out' I would have been crushed.

"Since this evening, I don't enjoy my role as a police officer. It has affected me psychologically even though I consider myself to be a resilient person."

Thompson admitted dangerous driving, having no insurance and being more than double the legal alcohol limit.

He was given an eight-month suspended prison sentence, a four-month night-time curfew, 140 hours of unpaid work, as well as being banned from the roads for 15 months and being ordered to pay a £1,500 fine by Judge Simon Bourne-Arton, QC.