A Whangarei policeman punched a suspected car thief who was handcuffed in the back of a police car until he slipped in and out of consciousness, a judge has been told.

Officer Richard Soper, 38, is on trial in Whangarei District Court charged with assaulting Wiremu Henare, now aged 18, on August 27 last year. Soper has pleaded not guilty.

Henare, who is a serving prisoner, told Judge Stan Thorburn he was driving a stolen Audi on the evening of August 27 when police tried to stop him. He took off, reaching speeds of up to 160km/h. The car crashed at One Tree Pt after he failed to take a left turn at speed.

Henare said he left through the passenger door and ran off over a paddock, before being brought down by a police dog.

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He was then handcuffed and put in the back of a police car where he says Soper punched him in the face a number of times.

"I felt scared. I thought it would stop if I told him the truth, so I told him what really happened, and I was punched further and I wasn't too sure if it was going to stop," Henare said in evidence yesterday.

"I was going in and out of consciousness. I couldn't defend myself because my hands were handcuffed behind my back."

He said he also told a female officer about the assault, but did not make a formal complaint at first. The attack from Soper left him with cuts and bruises to the face, he said.

Henare told Crown Prosecutor Gul Qaisrani he thought the assault was because he initially denied any involvement in the burglary and chase, however the assault continued even when he admitted his role. He said he was punched up to 10 times.

Henare said he pleaded guilty to charges from the car chase soon afterwards.

He was to be cross-examined by defence lawyer Arthur Fairley today, with the judge-alone trial to last four days.