A review of security at Londonderry courthouse has been completed after a prisoner was caught by a television crew successfully doing a runner prior to a court appearance at Christmas.
But Justice Minister David Ford said that whilst lessons were learned from the escape, it’s important local courthouses aren’t turned into fortresses.
Dean Beattie’s daring but deluded getaway on December 23 was captured on camera and consequently garnered widespread media attention.
He went on the run over Christmas but was eventually recaptured.
SDLP MLA Gerard Diver asked the Minister if security was being reviewed as a result of the escape which resulted in an appearance on the six o’clock news.
Mr Ford said: “As a result of the incident at Londonderry courthouse on December 23, an independent review of security was commissioned by the Northern Ireland Courts and Tribunals Service.
“The review was carried out in consultation with the police and the Prison Service. Members will understand that it would not be appropriate for me to discuss the outcome of the review, but I can reassure the House that the security arrangements in place at courthouses are kept under review and subject to regular inspection.”
Mr Diver asked the Minister if, “in general terms, are there lessons that can be learned from an incident of that nature?”
The Minister responded: “Mr Diver is certainly correct: there are always lessons to be learned from an incident such as that. They may relate to the physical fabric of courthouses and other places of concern, or there may be issues with the management of individuals coming into those places.
“In that case, the issue would seem to be slightly more to do with the second point than the first.”
DUP MLA Gregory Campbell remarked that it was “one thing for a high-profile escape such as that to occur but another for it to occur on television.”
Sinn Féin MLA Raymond McCartney warned against turning local courthouses into fortresses.
“It is important that, whatever the outcome of the assessment is, we do not turn our courthouses into fortresses.
“The idea of them being open, and people seeing them as being open, should not be reversed.”
Mr Ford replied: “Mr McCartney makes a valid point. One of the key issues with justice is that it must be seen to be done. One of the advantages of
some of our more modern courthouses is that, because they have been constructed in more recent times, it is easier to manage the security of prisoners arriving through somewhere different from a yard that is effectively all but open to public view, as is the case with Londonderry courthouse on Bishop Street.
“Clearly, that issue does not arise in some of our more modern facilities, such as Laganside or some of the smaller courthouses.”