It was trumpeted by the government as a "one-stop crimebusting centre" but yesterday's launch of the country's first American-style community justice centre descended into farce as the defendants themselves blew a raspberry at the new system by either turning up late or not bothering to turn up at all.

At 9.45am judge David Fletcher - approachable and youthful, having eschewed his wig and gown and adorning himself instead in dark grey suit, pale grey tie, white shirt and cufflinks - was told by his sombre clerk: "None of the defendants on your list have attended court."

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