ASBESTOS is delaying the return of York magistrates to their courthouse in Clifford Street.

They have not been able to hear cases in their own court since the Boxing Day floods inundated its cells and flooded their offices.

On January 4, they started sitting at Leeds Magistrates Court, and HM Courts and Tribunal Service hoped that they would be able to return to York within eight weeks.

But since then, workmen at the Clifford Street courthouse have found asbestos in the building, which had to be removed before some of the repairs and cleaning could be done. That has delayed the reopening of the building to normal operation until after Easter.

Court staff, probation officers and solicitors are now expecting to have to continue their daily commute to Leeds until Friday April 1, with the courthouse reopening for business on Monday April 4.

A courts service spokesman said: “We now expect York Magistrates’ Court to re-open for business in early April. This is primarily as a result of the work required to bring the cells back into use. We have also had to remove asbestos so that repairs to the boiler could be carried out.”

It is not the first time the Clifford Street building has been flooded. Both the court offices and cells were put out of action by the November 2000 floods.

On that occasion, the courtrooms reopened for business immediately but did not handle cases involving the cells, which did not reopen for five months after they were flooded. Custody cases were heard at the now-closed Selby courthouse during their closure.

The cells are in the courthouse basement and were flooded by groundwater as the water table rose – the same type of flooding that closed Jorvik Viking Centre’s star attraction, also in a basement, this winter.

The court offices on the river bank were flooded by river water because they are on the River Ouse bank.

Immediately after the Boxing Day floods, York magistrates sat at York Crown Court because judges only heard cases on one day between Christmas and New Year.

They are continuing to sit on Saturdays at the Crown Court to hear cases of people arrested overnight on Fridays and held in custody by police. They also sat at Harrogate Magistrates Court and at York County Court until the arrangement with Leeds Magistrates Court was set in place.