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GOVERNMENT inspectors visiting Sefton magistrates courts witnessed defendants drinking alcohol, a scuffle to which police were called and heard a litany of complaints from staff about having to deal with people on drugs.
The Magistrates Courts Service inspectors have called for a security review at the two courts in Sefton, at Bootle and Southport.
Their report states: "Inspectors were also told of other difficulties staff had experienced with those using drugs and other disruptive behaviour... we were aware that court ushers were unable to monitor continuously what was happening throughout the public areas."
Rosemary Melling, chief magistrates court inspector, said: "Sefton is not the only magistrates' court area in which we have encountered security problems and at which staff have voiced their concerns about security."
Court staff blame the removal of police from the courts and the take-over of prisoner escort by private security firms.
A spokesman for the Magistrates Association said that in one court she knew of a defendant who had thrown a bible at one of the clerks. The local magistrates committee had scrutinised its contracts with Group 4 following the incident to ensure that they could call on the private firm's help.
Rodney Hampson, clerk to Sefton Magsitrates Court Committee, said: "The only uniformed presence we have in court now is Group 4. The police used to have a court duty officer, but they've been withdrawn. There also used to be police in the cells we could call on in trouble. Group 4 only escorts prisoners."
Melling said: "I think staff felt safer when there was someone with a uniform about, whether or not the situation is any different."