It was standing room only at a public meeting this week when people from Limavady vented their anger at the NI Court Service, who they believe is intent on closing their courthouse. The building has hosted several high profile cases over the years, including that of an Italian Mafia chief.

The depth of feeling among those who packed the courtroom on Wednesday - with people from all walks of life, political persuasion and age - was palpable and they weren’t short of questions with which to cross-examine two senior Court Service officers.

While the officials vowed no decision has been made, the feeling among many is that the axe has already fallen, and the consultation exercise is “a sham”.

Local solicitor David Brewster warned officials Jacqui Durkin and Peter Luney: “Don’t underestimate the anger here.”

The Court Service say that by closing Limavady and four other hearing centres, including Strabane and Magherafelt, they can make savings in the region of £400,000. To upgrade Limavady courthouse it would take expenditure of £308,000, it’s estimated, while closing it would save £54,000 per year. Should the proposal go ahead, it’s expected that Limavady court business will move to Coleraine next year.

On Wednesday it was argued that closing the 390-year-old building would make justice harder to access for those who are more vulnerable. It would have a severe impact on town centre trade and time and travel costs for users, including the PSNI, the meeting was told.

Peter Jack from the Limavady Solicitors’ Association appealed to all residents to respond to the Court Service consulation before the deadline on March 2.

“This is a valuable local service, valuable for Limavady and valuable for the entire borough of 30,000 people,” he told the Journal. “We are totally opposed to this and we have pointed out the completely illogical position adopted by the Court Service. They say, ‘we think we can save a few quid’ but it could end up costing them money from other government departments. We hope they go away knowing the groundswell and strength of opinion from everyone who uses this courthouse.”

Over the years, Limavady Courthouse has seen a number of high profile cases, including that of Mafia chief Luigi Marotta, who appeared on fraud charges, Greysteel killer Torrens Knight and paedophile priest, Brendan Smyth.

See full coverage on pages 10 & 11.