FEARS are growing for the future of Skipton Magistrates’ Court, less than four years after it was saved from closure.

A senior local solicitor has claimed that plans to close the cells at Skipton Police Station will mean the end of the court.

John Mewies, president of the Keighley and Craven District Law Society, says he has seen a steady reduction in the number of cases being heard at Skipton. And he says if plans to close the Skipton custody suite go ahead, and people are instead taken to Harrogate Police Station, it will result in the closure of the court.

But the police have denied there will be any negative impact on the court, and claimed the closure of the cells will, if it goes ahead, save money and result in more officers on the beat.

Mr Mewies said: “There is no doubt in my mind that if this policy is adopted, it will result in the imminent closure of Skipton Magistrates’ Court.

“I have already seen a reduction in the cases at Skipton and an increased number of defendants being taken before the Harrogate magistrates.

“This may be more convenient for the police, but it greatly diminishes what has long been the backbone of our criminal legal system, and that is local justice.”

The closure of the cells is part of North Yorkshire Police’s Operational Police Model, a blueprint for the future of the force.

The police say the Skipton cells are underused and their closure will save £72,203 a year.

l Turn to Page 6 But Mr Mewies also questioned the supposed savings when put against the cost in officers’ time of transporting people to Harrogate, and said he believed a decision had already been made.

Skipton MP Julian Smith - who three years ago fought a successful campaign, backed by the Craven Herald, to save the Skipton court from closure - has written to the chief constable, Dave Jones, to say he shares many of the concerns raised by Mr Mewies.

But assistant chief constable Paul Kennedy said the decision to close Skipton cells would save money and result in more officers being seen on the beat, where the public wanted to see them.

He also sought to deny there would be any impact on the magistrates’ court.

“There is limited evidence to suggest that this is the case. If a crime was committed in Craven, it is more than likely that the case will be heard at Skipton, unless there is a very good reason for it to be dealt with elsewhere.”

Mr Kennedy added a decision to close the cells would not be taken lightly.

“The proposal has been based on months of extensive research and we believe by streamlining our operations in this way, we can continue to provide the service the public have come to expect.”