Courtroom attack on judge prompts fresh safety fears

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The Independent Online

A judge wrestled with a prisoner who jumped over the dock and attacked him yesterday, prompting fears for the safety of the judiciary.

A judge wrestled with a prisoner who jumped over the dock and attacked him yesterday, prompting fears for the safety of the judiciary.

It was the second time in less than six months that a judge has been attacked by a defendant in their own court.

Judge Hopkin had just sentenced Damien Small to three years' imprisonment for robbery and affray when the 20-year-old man leapt from the dock in Nottingham Crown Court.

Witnesses described how Small jumped over the shoulder of shocked barristers and "hurdled" the bar. The 64-year-old judge and the convicted robber then scuffled for a few seconds before security staff intervened.

As Small left the court he shouted: "Now you know what it is like to be scared" to which the judge, who appeared unhurt in the attack, replied: "I'm not scared of you, sonny."

In January, Judge Goddard, 64, was repeatedly punched by a powerfully built defendant who managed to vault over the dock at the Old Bailey despite being flanked by three security guards. The judge suffered a gash above her left eye that needed five stitches but later returned to work.

A spokeswoman for the Lord Chancellor's Department said that no charges were likely to follow from yesterday's incident. However, she added: "The court service takes court security very seriously and what would normally happen after an incident like this is that a routine review of security is carried out."

The Government is still conducting a review of security at the Old Bailey and new docks with toughened glass 2cm thick are being tested at four crown court centres in Preston, Chelmsford, Bristol and Leeds. A decision on whether to install them across the country is expected by the end of the year.

The new crown court secure docks are enclosed by 10ft-high glass panelling at a cost of between £20,000 and £35,000 each. A similar programme is already under way in the magistrates' courts.

The docks are being tested after a series of security lapses. A barrister wrestled a rapist to the ground during an escape attempt that left a dock officer severely injured earlier this year. Errol Harrison, 37, had been sentenced at Inner London Crown Court to 13 years for breaking into a woman's flat and assaulting her when he shouted "I am innocent", punched the officer and leapt over the 4ft dock.

Last August, two men wearing balaclavas and security uniforms burst into Slough magistrates' court, Berkshire, fired shots in the air and freed two prisoners.