Judge holds hearing in prison after rape accused refuses to attend court

Alleged serial sex attacker Joseph McCann has refused to attend court to face a string of charges including allegations he tied up a mother and sexually abused her children.

The 34-year-old is charged with 21 offences against eight alleged victims, aged between 11 and 71, across five police force areas over a two-week period between April 21 and May 5.

He is alleged to have kidnapped some of his alleged victims, three of whom are under 18, before sexually abusing them.

During one alleged incident, McCann is said to have tied a woman up in her own home and committed sexual offences, including rape, against her 17-year-old daughter and son, 11.

Chief Magistrate Emma Arbuthnot authorised the use of force to bring him before her after he refused to leave the cells at Westminster Magistrates' Court on Wednesday.

But in what is believed to be an unprecedented move, she convened a private hearing inside Belmarsh prison on Thursday.

In an update to reporters in a makeshift courtroom in a nearby conference centre after walking into the jail an hour and 20 minutes earlier, Ms Arbuthnot said the "shortish hearing" had been held in the prison's healthcare wing.

She said McCann "turned his back on the court to begin with" and claimed the "officers stitched me up" before she remanded him in custody until a hearing at the Old Bailey on May 23.

The hearing was told McCann, from Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, was aware of the charges against him.

They are eight counts of rape; four counts of kidnap; two counts of false imprisonment; two counts of engaging in non-penetrative sexual activity; two counts of sexual assault by penetration; one count of inciting a boy under the age of 13 to engage in sexual activity; one count of engaging in non-penetrative sexual activity with a girl aged 13 to 15; and one count of assault occasioning actual bodily harm.

McCann was arrested near Congleton, Cheshire, in the early hours of Monday morning, just over two weeks after he is alleged to have abducted a woman in her twenties in Watford before raping her in her home.

Two other women, who are in their twenties, were allegedly separately snatched off the street in Chingford and Edgware, London, on April 25 before being raped in a car.

A string of other alleged offences are said to have occurred in Lancashire and Greater Manchester on May 5, including the rape of a 71-year-old woman and the sexual assault of a 13-year-old girl.

McCann is yet to enter pleas to any of the charges, which were outlined to reporters following what is believed to be the first time such a magistrates' court hearing has been convened inside a prison.

The judge, plus lawyers, journalists, police officers and court staff, took taxis to Belmarsh, 15 miles away from Westminster Magistrates' Court.

The court crest was brought in an Argos carrier bag and placed on the conference table before Ms Arbuthnot told reporters: "I will be going into Belmarsh prison to see the defendant, Mr McCann.

"I will be accompanied by the prosecutor, defence counsel and obviously the clerk.

"We will then have a hearing in there, which will be a private hearing, not in the presence of the press."