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An unusual day in court

BMJ 2008; 337 doi: (Published 11 December 2008) Cite this as: BMJ 2008;337:a2959
  1. Peter D Donnelly, professor of public health, University of St Andrews,
  2. Jackie Tombs, professor of criminology and social justice, Glasgow Caledonian University
  1. Correspondence to: P D Donnelly pdd21{at}

    This was clearly not a normal day at Glasgow Sheriff Court.

    Four mounted police constables provided a visible presence outside the entrance, while on the River Clyde two more constables cruised slowly up and down on a launch. A police helicopter hovered overhead.

    As the young gang members were escorted into the building they were taken through two separate metal detectors before being led, surrounded by police in fluorescent jackets and anti-stab vests, into a courtroom. With rival gangs from all over the East End of Glasgow being brought together it was imperative that police were present in large enough numbers to intervene immediately and decisively should trouble arise. They had to ensure the safety of all in attendance.

    The other side of the court was full of representatives of the various agencies who had committed themselves, through Glasgow’s community initiative to reduce violence (CIRV), being launched this week (see News, doi:10.1136/bmj.a2972), to do everything they could to help. Social workers sat with housing experts, criminologists with youth workers, ministers of religion with mothers of victims. All shared a feeling that enough was enough, that the gang violence had to come to an end, and the initiative offered an alternative.

    As the sheriff entered all rose. In formal dress and solemn terms he declared his court in session and made it clear that he would brook no nonsense. Some of those young men present will have been before him and his colleagues before. Indeed some on day release from Polmont Young Offenders Institution were led up from the cells to sit guarded in the dock.

    All of these young men were here for one purpose: to be told that …

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