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Police racing to “overstretched” Courier Country court emergencies every week

Dunfermline Sheriff Court has seen 104 emergencies in the past three years.
Dunfermline Sheriff Court has seen 104 emergencies in the past three years.

Police are being called out twice a week to respond to emergencies at courts in Tayside and Fife, new figures have shown.

In the past three years, the force has received 2,228 999 calls from sheriff courts across the country including 51 in Dundee, 104 in Dunfermline, 38 in Forfar, 62 in Kirkcaldy and 41 in Perth.

According to the statistics obtained by the Scottish Conservatives through Freedom of Information, there were 885 calls in 2016, 823 last year and 520 for the first 10 months of 2018.

A variety of crimes were detected at each call-out, including 162 reports of drug-taking and 138 assaults.

Shadow justice secretary Liam Kerr said the figures showed Scotland’s courts service to be under huge pressure dealing with increasing numbers of cases, following the closure of sheriff and JP courts since 2013.

Ten sheriff courts were shut to save costs, including Arbroath and Cupar, with Forfar and Dundee among those bearing the extra workload.

“This just shows the kind of pressure our sheriff courts system is under,” he said.

“They are constantly being asked to do more with less, and now it emerges these facilities are at the centre of hundreds of 999 calls each year.

“It underlines what a brave job people working at sheriff courts do, and the importance of the system more generally.

“The vast majority of these aren’t minor incidents, and put the safety of those in the court building at risk.

“It’s vital that both our courts service and police force don’t have to continue cutting back so they can do the important job of delivering justice swiftly and safely.”

Some bizarre incidents were also contained in the statistics, including reports of an animals-related incident in Ayr in 2016; a public demonstration in Dumbarton; and a person consuming alcohol in a courtroom in Glasgow.

Last year, Selkirk Sheriff Court was at the centre of two unusual incidents; reports of a “planned shoot/pest control” incident, and a 999 call in relation to “weather”.

The true overall figure is likely to be higher as data was not available for all sheriff courts.

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Police Scotland will respond to calls, particularly if there is a safety concern in a public building.

“Court performance is improving with the latest figures showing 97% of Sheriff Courts offer trial diets at the optimum 16 weeks compared to 50% in 2014.

“We have provided additional resources to the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service and Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service to address the extra demand created by the increased reporting and prosecution of certain categories of crime.”

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