Solicitors have slammed a decision to close cells at Sunderland Magistrates’ Court after a burglar handed a jail term was left to sit unsupervised alongside members of the public for almost an hour, waiting for his prison van.
After being jailed for two months yesterday, Ricky Elliott was told he had to sit tight and wait outside the courtroom for a van to come and pick him up.
It’s a security risk, because, unlike this defendant, people generally get upset about going to jail. They are then expected to sit out there and wait quietly with nobody watching themMichael Robinson, solicitor
After handing down a prison term, District Judge Roger Elsey asked for a jailer to take Elliott away, only to be told there were none, and the 39-year-old was instead told to wait for a ‘roving van’ to collect him and deliver him to prison.
Although the court has its own cells, a decision by Her Majesty’s Tribunal and Court Service (HMTCS) means these are no longer in use, as of last week.
Instead, defendants on remand are dealt with at South Tyneside Magistrates’ Court in South Shields as part of a shake-up as to where cases are dealt with.
The changes also mean domestic violence cases will be heard in Gateshead, whereas Sunderland will deal with youth cases from elsewhere in the region.
Almost an hour after being sentenced, Elliott, of Donnison Gardens, Hendon, was informed that a van from the GEOamey prisoner escort service had arrived.
A HMTCS spokesman said: “The vast majority of cases heard at Sunderland are non-custodial, so there is no requirement for a permanent prisoner escort presence at the court – cases are listed with this in mind.
“Where prisoner escort attendance is required, a defendant may be required to wait up to an hour on court premises for the prisoner escort to collect them.”
But the decision has been criticised by some city solicitors.
Michael Robinson, of Emmerson’s Solicitors, who was in court at the time, said: “It’s just ridiculous what they’ve done.
“It undermines the court system. He has to sit out there and wait to go off and serve his sentence, because the cells are over in South Tyneside. Who thought that one up?
“The whole thing is just nonsense. When something is so serious that custody is the only option, they are left to sit out there unsupervised, just because the Government needs to be seen to be tight with money.
“It’s a security risk, because, unlike this defendant, people generally get upset about going to jail.
“They are then expected to sit out there and wait quietly with nobody watching them.”
Chris Wilson, of DJMS Solicitors, said he was concerned that the lack of cells could lead to magistrates becoming reluctant to jail defendants.
“Will we have magistrates saying ‘the cells are not open today, we’ll just give out a community order instead’, even when custody is justified?” he asked.
Elliott had admitted burgling three hair or beauty salons in Mary Street in the city centre, between July 5 and July 8.
He entered Top to Toe Beauty, and attempted to steal a quantity of cash, while he stole a mobile phone, laptops and hair products worth £300 from Unique Training in Hair and Beauty, and a rucksack and £342 in cash from Headlight.
Prosecutor Paul Anderson said: “These are three properties targeted in the same street, Mary Street. All are commercial premises.
“The defendant was arrested and was frank enough to tell the police that he went in and took some gear.”
Elliott told police he had committed the offences to finance his heroin habit.
Gerry Armstrong, defending, said, Elliott had already been dealt with for an identical offence committed around the same time, and had been arrested immediately outside the prison gates after completing an earlier sentence.
Mr Armstrong said Elliott wants to turn over a new leaf.
“He wants to get back to his children, who have distanced themselves from him. They have done very well. They are at university and they don’t want to associate with a father who is on the front page of the Echo or whatever.
“He says ‘I want to make an effort when I come out this time, I’m going to get myself right’.
“He has asked for a short sentence to clear everything, because obviously there are things that he wants to get on with.”