COURT staff will next week begin using new powers to track down elusive offenders - including sending them text messages.

The Court Act 2003 comes into force on Tuesday and will enable magistrates' courts to collect unpaid fines and execute warrants with more clout.

The courts will flush out criminals by letter, phone call or text message, warning them to pay up or suffer the consequences.

In addition, court staff will have the power to take cash directly from offenders' payslips and benefits.

They will also be able to track them down using the Police National Computer and the Department for Work and Pensions database.

Mark Jones, spokesman for the Court Service said: "We're upping the ante. We had a good record before at catching people that evaded the courts, now we'll be focusing more on enforcement.

"Before, the courts would fine somebody and it would not be chased up. That will no longer be the case."

Staff are expected to get to work in Greenwich, which has two courts, next month. Offenders in Bexley, which has one court, will be targeted from June.

Whole days at Bexleyheath Magistrates' Court have been scrapped before because no defendants turned up.

An usher, who did not want to be named, said: "It is frustrating when no one shows up. Hopefully this will sort it out.

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