Knuckle-duster and knives among hundreds of items seized at courthouses in Northern Ireland

Bottles of bleach, knives and a knuckle-duster are just some of the hundreds of dangerous items being confiscated at courthouse security gates in Northern Ireland every year, we can reveal.

But the vast majority of items were later returned to their owners, including illegal weapons such as lock-knives, a JPIMedia Data investigation shows.

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Northern Ireland Courts and Tribunals Service (NICTS) said it would be taking up the matter with private contractor G4S, which runs its courthouse security services.

Last year, 439 items were confiscated at court buildings across the country, a seven per cent rise on the year before.

There was also a slight increase in the number of knives being found on people entering court, which a charity has described as “very worrying”.

Illegal knuckle-duster returned to owner

Visitors to courts go through security checks similar to those carried out at airports.

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The vast majority of items confiscated by staff were returned to their owner as they left the courthouse, according to data obtained by JPIMedia through a Freedom of Information request to Northern Ireland Courts and Tribunals.

This included illegal weapons such as a knuckle-duster and three lock-knives.

G4S declined to comment on the findings.

Only three three items were permanently confiscated: a bag of tablets discovered in Craigavon Courthouse in November 2018 and cannabis and a grinder seized at the same court in December 2018. Police were called both times.

It is illegal to carry a knife in public without good reason, unless it has a folding blade of three inches or less.

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It is also an offence to carry a lock knife or an offensive weapon, such as a knuckle-duster, in public if you don't have a valid reason to do so.

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Northern Ireland Courts and Tribunals Service (NICTS) said they have introduced a range of search procedures in order to provide “a safe and secure environment” for all people attending courthouses.

A spokesperson for NICTS said: “In accordance with legislation, possession of a lock-knife in a public place without good reason is an offence.

“The knuckle-duster is an offensive weapon and should have been retained. NICTS is working with G4S to improve the security at all court buildings and to ensure that there is clarity around the authority to confiscate and retain such items.”

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More than two-thirds of all items seized last year (71 per cent) were at Belfast’s Laganside Courthouse.

‘A wake up call’

Last year saw a slight rise in the number of knives being confiscated at security gates.

In 2017, 176 knives were seized, compared to 191 in 2018 - a rise of nine per cent.

Types of knives confiscated at security gates included penknives, utility knives, multi-tool knives and illegal lock-knives.

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In 2018 there was a slight rise in the number of knives being confiscated at security gates. Image: Shutterstock

Patrick Green, the chief executive of knife-crime awareness charity The Ben Kinsella Trust, said: "It is very worrying to see a rise in the number of knives confiscated in courts in Northern Ireland.

Knife crime often behaves like a virus, left unchecked it grows and grows, leaving lasting misery in its wake.

“England and Wales are in the grip of what has been referred to as a knife crime epidemic and it is important that steps are taken early to prevent this happening in Northern Ireland.

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“These figures should act as a wake-up call, we must ensure that knives and those who carry them are removed from our streets, but also that young people are educated about the dangers associated with carrying a knife."