A WHITE van man who drove at police officers controlling heavy traffic flow at the Appleby Horse Fair has been spared an immediate prison sentence.

Carlisle Crown Court heard today how Gerard Richard Monk actually struck two PCs and one patrol vehicle after becoming frustrated after a hard day at work on the evening of June 5.

While travelling along Roman Road during the traditional annual gathering - which attracts many thousands of visitors - Monk, 38, refused to stop his Ford Transit despite officers on foot signalling for him to do so.

Two had to jump out of his path, one was struck on the hand as she desperately protected her head as the van's wing mirror maintained a course towards her face, and another PC had his foot driven over while placing his hands on the van's bonnet in a bid to halt it. He suffered no broken bones.

A police vehicle was also struck a glancing blow and damaged as Monk drove on. Monk was described as "foaming at the mouth" and aggressive when officers visited his home in nearby Dufton the next day, but calmed down and apologised when handcuffed.

"I was just trying to get home from work," he later said. "I panicked and it just got worse and worse. I realise I should have stopped."

The female traffic officer hit on the hand spoke of being left "dazed". Prosecutor Gerard Rogerson said: "She is now apprehensive about stepping out in front of vehicles and asking them to stop."

Monk admitted dangerous driving and was punished by Recorder Richard Archer, who spoke of a "very difficult" sentencing balancing act.

He heard details of the defendant's personal circumstances, family commitments and positive character. "He was not thinking straight," added Monk's lawyer, Karen Tunnacliffe. "He was just acting impulsively. He just panicked. He is genuinely remorseful."

An eight-month jail term was suspended for 18 months. Monk must complete a three-month night-time curfew, and rehabilitation. He was banned from driving for a year and must take an extended re-test.

Of the female officer who was struck, Recorder Archer said to Monk: "You can well imagine what might have happened had she not raised her hand to protect herself.

"You simply had no regard to anybody or anything that required you to stop."