Concern as courthouse left unlocked

AN investigation is underway after a Suffolk courthouse was left unlocked - but unmanned - by bungling officials.

Dave Gooderham

AN investigation is underway after a Suffolk courthouse was left unlocked - but unmanned - by bungling officials.

A criminal defendant was left on his own inside Bury St Edmunds Magistrates Court yesterday morning after the security gaffe - prompting fears it could have been unlocked over the entire Bank Holiday weekend.

Her Majesty's Court Service (HMCS) last night pledged a full investigation but refused to comment how the mistake was made or how long the court had remained unlocked.

The blunder was uncovered when a defendant meant to be attending court, a reporter from the EADT, and a third woman - dropping off some legal papers regarding a case later this week - were all able to enter the empty building in Honey Hill.

But inside, there were no officials, solicitors or security guards in sight on either of the building's two floors. A delivery driver said he had twice been confronted by an empty court building as he attempted to deliver a package.

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The woman, who did not want to be named, said: “I came down here with legal aid papers because I just assumed it would be open.

“It is weird that we have been able to just walk in without anyone being here. There is no sign or anything saying it was closed.”

As an investigation into the mix-up got under way, one leading magistrate led the calls for answers.

Richard Kemp, who usually presides at Sudbury Magistrates Court, said: “I am astounded to hear about this - especially as court buildings are usually bristling with security.

“I am normally very impressed with security with even magistrates having to identify themselves and go through security checks.

“But there has obviously been some kind of lapse. We need answers as there has to be some kind of severe problem for something like this to happen.”

In legal papers allocated to magistrates, Mr Kemp confirmed that there had been two scheduled courts in Bury yesterday - but a HMCS spokesman said he was unsure whether this was the case.

The spokesman added: “We take security very seriously and we can confirm that the court is now secure. We are investigating what happened.”

By midday - after the EADT had contacted Her Majesty's Court Service and the building's security firm Mitie - the entrance to the courthouse was locked.

Although it is not clear how the mishap happened, it is yet more unwanted headlines for courts in west Suffolk.

Last week, the EADT exclusively revealed how four security guards, employed by Mitie, had been suspended for allegedly posing for pictures with comedian Jimmy Carr.

It is believed the guards are now subject to disciplinary procedures following the incident with Carr after he appeared at Sudbury Magistrates Court in relation to a speeding offence.

A spokesman for Mitie said they had nothing to add to the HMSC comments.

* Richard Kemp is standing as an independent in next month's county council elections. He will be contesting the Melford ward with Kimberley Cook (Labour) and Richard Wade (Conservatives).