Vera Baird says Government has failed to find a solution to the closure of cells at Newcastle Magistrates' Court

Police Commissioner Vera Baird has hit out at justice officials for their handling of cell closures at Newcastle Magistrates Court

Newcastle Magistrates' Court
Newcastle Magistrates' Court

The North East’s leading police commissioner has condemned justice officials for failing to find a solution to the closure of cells at Newcastle Magistrates’ Court.

Vera Baird, commissioner at Northumbria Police, said the provision of cells for courts is the responsibility of Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS).

The cells at Pilgrim Street were declared “unfit for purpose” by the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) back in 2010 and despite repeated efforts - says Mrs Baird - to work with NHCTS no solution has been presented.

A letter to court users from HMCTS confirmed that there is “little immediate prospect of a resolution” between the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) and Northumbria Police over the re-opening of cells at Newcastle Magistrates’ Court.

This has led to doubts being cast over the court’s long-term future. Since the cells’ closure remand cases, custody trials and sentencing where there is a real likelihood of a prison sentence being imposed have been temporarily transferred to North Tyneside Magistrates’ Court - more than eight miles away.

Northumbria’s new station at Forth Banks will be operational in the next few months and Pilgrim Street which is almost empty will then be closed and disposed of.

Mrs Baird says HMCTS has been aware of the closure of Pilgrim Street police station for years, but a solution to the problem has failed to materialise.

Police Commissioner Vera Baird
Police Commissioner Vera Baird

She said: “Despite our repeated efforts to work with HMCTS over a significant period of time no solution has been presented that would ensure the safety of prisoners.

“The cells at Pilgrim Street were declared unfit for purpose and hazardous to anyone detained in them, by the IPCC in 2010. The police immediately ceased using them yet HMCTS continued to use some cells.

“Her Majesty’s chief inspector of prisons in 2012 also condemned the cells for use by the courts describing their condition as ‘deplorable’ and telling HMCTS that they ‘should be completely refurbished, or they should be closed’.

“Our own head of custody has recently re-inspected and confirmed that the old design and appalling state of repair poses a risk to those detained, which can include vulnerable prisoners with mental health issues or physical disability.

“Further the cell design does not allow safe and rapid entry and exit, thereby compromising the safety of both staff and prisoners.

“As owner of the building, I would be liable if anyone was injured in the cells and the chief constable would be at risk from the IPCC.

“We do, however wish to assist HMCTS in finding a solution to the present difficulties. We have offered the use of cells at Clifford Street police station in Byker, less than two miles away.

“This is a more pragmatic and cost effective solution to the problem. We have also suggested that HMCTS may wish to consider the opportunity of assessing whether there is accommodation at Clifford Street that could also be adapted to provide the facilities for a remand court in the future. Although we are not under any obligation this offers remains.

“We have repeatedly tried to find a solution yet there appears to be a reluctance on the part of HMCTS to do so. Local people will draw their own conclusions.”


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