The security firm responsible for prisoner transport to Scotland’s courts has come under fire with the service being described as a “total shambles.”
It follows a chaotic week at Jedburgh Sheriff Court where the proceedings were severely disrupted on three days due to the failures of GeoAmey.
Matters finally came to a head last Thursday when prisoners had to be transferred from holding cells at Hawick Police Station after 4pm by police officers as GeoAmey had refused to provide transport to get them there.
The resident sheriff at Jedburgh bailed several people who were accused of crimes ranging from rape, domestic abuse and causing severe injury by dangerous driving.
In all these cases, bail was not opposed by the crown, but there was no GeoAmey transport to take them to prison if they had been remanded in custody.
The late arrival of prison vans from jails in the central belt of Scotland has been a constant complaint at the sheriff courts in Jedburgh and Selkirk, with the remote location and staff shortages being blamed.
But the incidents have become more frequent since the Anglo-American company took over the £238 million contract for Scottish sheriff courts prisoner transport in January.
Co-incidentally, there was a pre-arranged meeting between court staff and GeoAmey management last Thursday in the chambers of Sheriff Peter Paterson at Jedburgh, where it is normal to discuss operational matters.
During what was described as a “tense” meeting, it is understood GeoAmey management apologised and admitted the situation was “completely unacceptable”, but added that similar problems were happening all over Scotland because of staff shortages.
The management also accepted the Borders GeoAmey staff were seriously stressed and understrength, and that they would seek to improve the situation as soon as possible.
Jedburgh’s week of woe started last Monday when the court sat until nearly 8pm waiting for prisoners who should have been at court by 9am.
On Tuesday, a man awaiting trial was not brought to the court building until noon.
And that led on to Thursday’s problems with the police being drafted in to provide transport and accused people being bailed when they could have been sent to custody.
A court insider said:”It’s been a particularly bad week here. It has been a problem in recent times, but things just escalated this week.
“The transport delays have a huge knock-on effect for the other court business.
“A lot of time and money is wasted by hanging around waiting for people to get here.
“I would describe the situation at the moment as a total shambles.”
A GEOAmey spokesperson said: “We apologise to the court for the transport delay at Jedburgh on Thursday. In this case, we were unable to provide the court with the exact expected arrival time for the return vehicle in the afternoon.
“We remain committed to continual improvement of our performance standards to deliver a dependable, efficient service to support the criminal justice service in Scotland.”
A spokesman for the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service, who run the administration of courts north of the border, commented: “We can confirm that delays and late sitting at Jedburgh occurred due to problems with the transport of prisoners by GeoAmey.
“This has been reported under the contractual complaints handling and will be investigated by the Scottish Prison Service which manages the contract on behalf of Scottish Ministers.”