Anti-Social Behaviour Blamed As Court Closes

Anti-social behaviour was yesterday blamed for the closure of a Welsh magistrates’ court. Residents living in the shadow of Blackwood’s court building last night welcomed the decision after putting up with years of drunken behaviour and bad language from “gangs” of defendants.

But they described as “farcical” a situation that saw a court of law in a residential area become one of the town’s worst trouble spots.

Gwyn Berkley, 64, a retired policeman living nearby, said, “Obviously we’re delighted that the court is finally closing because we’ve had a catalogue of problems over the years.

“The main problem was groups waiting to go into court, drinking in the street and swearing, and while they didn’t give us abuse individually, some of the elderly people were frightened of walking past.

“It makes a farce of the law that there were signs up banning drinking in public yet the one place you could see it at 10.30am was outside a magistrates’ court.

“Last summer, for instance, some girls had a large crate of booze and were just lining them up.

“Occasionally there was also a Family Court and you’d have somebody shouting up the street, ‘You won’t get any ******* money out of me’.”

Mr Berkley said residents had long since given up calling police, claiming they did little to deal with the problem.

He added, “Over the years the court said they were only responsible for what happened inside the court.”

The court held its final hearing yesterday after operating as a criminal justice building – initially as a police station – since 1907.

The building, sited in the heart of a residential area on William Street, will officially close next Friday.

Court officials yesterday conceded anti-social behaviour was a factor in the decision to close. A spokeswoman yesterday said it was taken as “a step in the long- term building strategy of Her Majesty’s Court Service (HMCS) and after HMCS were made aware of issues concerning anti-social behaviour in the area”.

All cases will now be rescheduled for the recently upgraded Caerphilly Magistrates’ Court, or Abertillery Magistrates’ Court.

Officials meanwhile downplayed fears of possible anti-social behaviour at a new County Court being built in neighbouring Hall Street. The spokeswoman added, “HMCS staff are confident that this court will not encourage similar displays of anti-social behaviour which were demonstrated by some people visiting the magistrates court on William Street.”

Eddie Harding, Justices Clerk for Gwent, said, “It has been part of our long-term plan to cease using this building when alternative arrangements became available as it does not have the facilities necessary in the 21st century. I am pleased that we have been able to achieve this. May I take this opportunity to thank residents of William Street for their patience and tolerance during what we accept has been a difficult period.”

It is understood the Blackwood Magistrates’ building will be sold. Kevin Etheridge, an Independent county councillor for the town, said, “I know there have been problems there and we did have people hanging about outside there, which was a worry and concern to residents. But at the end of the day you welcome the fact the magistrates’ court isn’t going to be in a residential area any more.”