POLICE have been called to Chester Cathedral 20 times in the past 18 months to deal with a host of incidents from suspicious packages to violence and harassment.

The diocese employs its own Constables to guard the cathedral precincts in a common law tradition that dates back to the 13th Century.

They have certain powers within the boundaries of the site – but must call on Cheshire Constabulary when criminal offences are suspected.

A request under the Freedom of Information Act reveals that since April 2017 the following incidents have been recorded:

Concern for safety – 3 incidents

Police generated response – 3

Missing person – 2

Suspicious activity – 2

Violence/ harassment/ threat to life – 2

Nuisance anti-social behaviour – 2

Pre-planned events – 2

Suspicious package – 1

Personal antisocial behaviour – 1

Collapse/ illness/ injury/ trapped – 1

Crime – 1

There are currently four Cathedral Constables in Chester, including Chris Jones who is both operations manager and Head Constable.

He was appointed in December 2011 to lead a small team to maintain security and keep good order within the cathedral and its precincts.

Chris was joined by three former officers from Cheshire Special Constabulary who became cathedral constables in 2017.

There are four Cathedrals in England which employ constables to keep watch - Canterbury, York, Liverpool, and Chester.

The Cathedral Constables website states: “Constables are few in number, around 50 in England. But they are trained, well resourced, and skilled in ensuring the Cathedrals they serve, their communities, worshippers, and visitors, are kept safe and secure.”

They wear blue/white chequered cap bands and a crowned cap badge, carry batons, and are authorised to use “reasonable force” to carry out their duties.

The Standard spoke to Chris earlier this year about the problems with antisocial behaviour in and around the cathedral.

Issues are often caused by homeless people who use the spacious grounds as a place to congregate and take drugs.

He recounted one incident of a man who had stripped down to his underpants to wade into the pond and retrieve money people had thrown in.

Another man found sleeping in the knave told people he was “armed and dangerous”, which could have ended in an armed police response.

“We don't stop anyone coming into our building unless they've been violent or aggressive to the staff,” Chris said.

Drug use in the public toilets was also a “constant battle”, he added.

Contractors have suffered needle injuries and on one occasion a group of school children got a shock when they found a box of needles.

“Some people are sympathetic to the building but there are others who just throw the sharps straight into the nappy bins,” Chris said.

People passed out in gardens after taking drugs such as Spice has also become a problem and it was not uncommon for Cathedral Constables to have to call for ambulances.