At a ceremony due to take place later this year, York Minster’s police force will be given full police powers.
According to this report, although it is a private police force, the Minster’s eight-strong squad of officers has undergone specialist training and that, for the first time almost 80 years, will have the power to arrest miscreants.
The new powers were formally recognised in a memorandum of understanding signed by the Dean of York, the Very Rev Vivienne Faull, and Superintendent Adam Thompson, above, on behalf of the Chapter of York and the Chief Constable of North Yorkshire Police.
Reporting for Law & Religion UK, David Pocklington pointed out that:
Although not as well-known as the Swiss Guard, the Minster Police have served York Minster for many hundreds of years. These and other cathedral constables were created under common law rather than statutory legislation.
Between 1285 and 1839 York Minster had its own Liberty – the “Liberty of Saint Peter and Peter Prison” – which was the walled area which enclosed the Minster Close. Within the Liberty, the Dean and Chapter of York Minster held jurisdiction, and were able to appoint constables. These officers, similar to parish constables, maintained law and order. Over time, the Liberty, which covered an area equating to a third of the medieval City of York, had its own coroners, justices of the peace, bailiffs and a prison.
The Liberty constable may well have also administered some of punishments handed out by the court. Officers certainly equipped themselves with an array of weapons, some possibly used to mete out summary justice. The Minster Police have in their possession a flail, said to have belonged to a Mr J Strutt, the Liberty Constable in 1713.
Established in the 13th century, the Minster Police constabulary is thought to be the oldest continuing police service in the country.
It is a forerunner of the modern police force established by Sir Robert Peel in 1829. The Minster’s cathedral constables were sworn in as constables until the 1930s, when they ceased to be attested.
Head of security Mark Sutcliffe said:
York Minster is one of only seven cathedrals in the world to maintain its own police force, which has played an important role in the rich history of the Minster for hundreds of years.
We have worked closely alongside North Yorkshire Police for many years to keep the Minster and the people who visit it from around the world safe.
The York Minster police in 2010. Photograph © York Minster on Flickr
Any arrested people will be handed over to the regular police for transport and processing and the force will be responsible for the submission of prosecution files.
The powers will formally come into effect when the eight cathedral constables and head of security are sworn in at a ceremony to be held at York Minster in the spring.
They will join officers from Canterbury, Liverpool and Chester who have the same powers in their respective cathedral and precincts.
The seven cathedrals in the world which maintain their own constabulary are York Minster, Liverpool’s Anglican Cathedral; Canterbury Cathedral; Hereford Cathedral; Chester Cathedral; the Basilica Papale di San Pietro in Vaticano, (ie St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome); and Washington’s National Cathedral (USA). The Swiss Guard is a small force maintained by the Holy See, and is responsible for the safety of the Pope, including the security of the Apostolic Palace.
Today’s eight Minister Police do not routinely carry handcuffs and truncheons, as incidents of public order are rare. Their uniform is less flamboyant than that of the Swiss Guards, (the design of which is popularly attributed to Michelangelo), and is similar to their Home Office colleagues; they have all completed the Level 3 Certificate in Cathedral Constable Attestation, and are also trained in first aid.
Hat tip: Ernest Jackson