PAUL Bowell, who is accused of paralysing his girlfriend, has told a court he had no idea she would jump out of his moving car.

Bowell, 38, of Westminster Road, Toothill, denies inflicting grievous bodily harm and falsely imprisoning Tracey Hurley on May 5 last year.

Giving evidence in Swindon Crown Court yesterday father-of-three Bowell said the couple, who had been seeing each other for nearly two years, frequently had arguments.

As the two argued in Bowell's Ford Escort after drinking at a Coate Water pub, Miss Hurley attempted to grab the steering wheel, the court heard. But Bowell, a self-employed plumber, said he had no idea she would actually throw herself out of his moving car, on the road between Lechlade and Fairford.

"Tracey opened and closed the car door a couple of times but it did not at all make me think she was going to jump out," he said. "Then the door was flung open and she jumped straight out."

Bowell, who told the court he was in love with Miss Hurley, said: "I stopped the car immediately and ran to where she was lying.

"I was totally devastated I couldn't believe what had happened."

The court heard mother-of-one Miss Hurley, a Swindon College student, had consumed five or six pints of lager.

An argument began in the car when she was rude about Bowell's ex-wife, the court heard. Miss Hurley demanded Bowell let her out of the car, but the defendant said he refused to do so because they were driving through dark country lanes.

"I did what I thought was right," he said.

Bowell said that on two or three occasions he had to stop his girlfriend's arms getting to the steering wheel. He accused her of biting and scratching him while he was driving.

Miss Hurley, who suffered severe spinal injuries and now uses a wheelchair, said earlier in the trial that she leapt from the car because she thought Bowell was going to kill her.

But Mr Marcus Tregilga-Davey, for the defence, said she jumped because of "a mistaken view of what was going on," caused by the amount of alcohol she had drunk.

Bowell was questioned why it had taken him two hours and 35 minutes to drive the 15 miles from the site of the incident to Princess Margaret Hospital in Swindon.

The court heard police had taken just 25 minutes to cover the same route.

Bowell told the court he had initially continued to drive away from Swindon, in the hope of finding a quicker route to the hospital.

After turning the car around and heading back towards Swindon he made three stops, the court heard. The first was for half an hour.

"It was the shock kicking in," he said. "I couldn't help myself and I started to cry.

"I couldn't really see the road so I had to stop.

"I didn't know the extent of Tracey's injuries she seemed to be okay at that point."

The second stop was for 10 minutes, and the third a brief stop to fill the car with petrol at a garage. He had driven at 20mph because going any faster caused Miss Hurley to cry out in pain, he said.

When the couple finally arrived at the hospital Bowell told doctors Tracey had been hit by a car because she had asked him to, the court heard.

Bowell said Tracey was afraid her daughter may be taken out of her care if her actions were known.

Addressing what he called the "missing hour" of his journey to the hospital, Mr O'Brien told Bowell: "You were thinking of how to get yourself out of trouble. You couldn't face up to what you had caused to happen." The trial continues.