Security firm in the dock over prisoners’ late arrival
Security firm G4s has been told to account for itself at Lerwick Sheriff Court or risk fines following its failure to bring prisoners to court on time twice this week.
Sheriff Philip Mann said it was “highly unsatisfactory” after three hearings were delayed yesterday.
He has ordered a G4S representative to come before the court on August 5th to explain why the three prisoners, being flown up from south were not at the court on time.
If found to be in contempt of court, the security firm could face fines for holding up the legal process.
There was a similar delay on Wednesday when Jamie Niell was taken from custody to court.
Niell was due in court at 10am but his case was only heard around 12.40pm as he had not been put on a plane till 9.50am.
Procurator fiscal Duncan MacKenzie said that G4S had taken a “unilateral decision” that the prisoner would not be taken up in time for his trial.
Sheriff Philip Mann said the defendant was entitled to have his hearing timeously and it was unfair for a delay to potentially impact his liberty. It was especially galling given the lengthy discussions that had taken place with G4S before.
And on Thursday court began at 10am but the cases did not come before the sheriff until 12.45pm
A spokesman for G4S said that a “welfare issue” for the prisoner may have prompted the delay and the court had been told about this.
He added: “HMP Grampian is an hour from Aberdeen airport and consequently prisoners are required to leave the prison at 4.30am to make early morning flights. In exceptional circumstances prisoners may be placed on later flights for welfare reasons, and in this instance the court was informed of that decision.”
Regarding yesterday’s delay, he said: “We had to transfer three prisoners from HMP Grampian to Shetland on flights from Aberdeen airport and it’s often the case there are not sufficient seats available on early morning flights for both prisoners and the requisite number of staff required to transport them (in this case four, in addition to the prisoners). In these situations we have no choice but to fly prisoners when capacity allows and the court was informed of that decision.”
Last year sheriff Mann upbraided G4S for several failures to bring prisoners to court in Lerwick on time.
Shetland MSP Tavish Scott said that he shared sheriff Mann’s irritation that G4S had “failed the Scottish Justice system costing the court both valuable time and money.”
He added: “I will be writing to the Scottish Justice Minister, Michael Matheson urging him to start an inquiry into these failings.
“I am disappointed that despite the SNP mantra to keep services in public hands, they appointed G4S despite the company’s many public failings. This is not the first time that Lerwick Sheriff Court has been disrupted by G4S inability to carry out their contractual duties. Everyone also remembers the shambles of security at the London Olympics.
“I do not understand why, if G4S were not suitable to help run the successful commonwealth games in Glasgow, the justice system in Shetland should continue to suffer from a sub-standard service. It is time the SNP Government looked into their own responsibilities”.