SECURITY staff will not work at York Crown Court unless there are vital safety improvements to stop prisoners injuring or killing themselves, it has been claimed.

The building’s cells are a major risk, according to a health and safety audit, with too many opportunities for prisoners to self-harm.

Her Majesty’s Courts Service (HMCS) has now applied to City of York Council for permission to overhaul the cells, removing the dangers. It is claimed there are currently too many “ligature” points, and the cells are “below the standards for the safe incarceration of defendants”.

If work is not carried out then GSL, which provides security officers, would refuse to work in the cells and the court service would be criminally liable for any self-harm committed by prisoners.

In a statement supporting the application, a spokesman for HMCS’s agent said York’s cells posed the highest risk of any in the local court circuit.

He said: “Without these proposed alterations to the cells, the security staff are not prepared to continue taking the defendants into custodial care and therefore the building will ultimately become redundant.”

HMCS is also seeking permission to install a “secure dock” to stop prisoners escaping and to stop drugs being passed to defendants in the dock, as has happened elsewhere.

In August 2007 in York, David Peter Woodier, then 44, of Teesside, vaulted the dock and fled after being sentenced to four-and-a-half years for burglary. In 2005, another defendant had done likewise and last year there was more drama, when a defendant leapt from the dock to kiss his girlfriend.

The spokesman said: “The installation of a secure dock into Court One will provide an increased level of security.”

Under the plans, the number of seats in the dock would also be increased and new lighting installed.

Neither the necessary experts at HMCS, nor their agents, were available to comment yesterday.