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York Minster's cathedral constables given back powers of arrest after 80 years

The church has eight constables who patrol the grounds Credit: York Minster

York Minster's cathedral constables have been handed back their powers of arrest after 80 years.

The private police force - thought to be the country's oldest - has been around since the 13th century and has drawn comparisons to the Vatican's Swiss Guard.

Its officers have until now been unable to fully deal with troublemakers after magistrates halted attestation ceremonies for the church in the 1930s.

But now the constables have had their powers reinstated after veteran police officer Mark Sutcliffe was brought in by Minster officials to "professionalise" the force.

The Minster has hired veteran police officer Mark Sutcliffe Credit: York Minster

The officers have been given special training to deal with everything from lost property to political protests during church services.

Speaking to ITV News, the Minster's head of security Mark Sutcliffe said his constables will deal with "modern challenges" including terror threats and the risk of protesters interrupting services.

He admits that York Minster "could be a target" for extremists but says that with their new training the constables are fully prepared to "do the right thing".

The 63-year-old, who has a counter-terror background, says: "It's about protecting the visitors and the people who work at the Minster and trying to understand what the threat is.

"In the very unlikely but possible likelihood of something happening we could respond."

The force has been around since the 13th century - here they are in 1900 Credit: York Minster

It is a far cry from the historical role of the cathedral constables who in the 1900s would have counted "drunkenness and misbehaviour" as their main problems.

Mark adds: "We tend to think of police forces being well-managed but in those days it was a bit more of a loose arrangement."

And while in the past the officers may have frequently exercised their powers, Mark thinks it would be "very rare" for one of his officers to make an arrest nowadays.

The officers deal with modern challenges ranging from lost property to the threat of terror Credit: York Minster

He says: "A church is a place of worship and people are welcomed.

"One of the things they have been trained in is conflict resolution - we will do our utmost to deal with any situation, to talk people down and to resolve it.

"Ultimately the powers of arrest are there and they may never be used - but at least the constables have them just in case."

The York Minster cathedral police force is one of only seven in the world and includes two women with constables ranging in age from 30s to 60s.

The constables will join officers from Canterbury, Liverpool and Chester who are attested and hold powers in their respective areas.

Their powers will be officially confirmed at a ceremony in spring Credit: York Minster

North Yorkshire Police will still be responsible for investigating all crime and any arrested people will be handed over to the force for transport and processing.

Mark, 63, continues: "The constables were previously a little unsure of their powers and a little unsure of where they stood.

"Now they've been trained, they know the laws and can deal with situations appropriately at the right level.

"The visiting public wants to know that if an individual wears the word police, they know what they are doing."

The powers will be formally reinstated at a ceremony in spring.