More than 1500 people were evacuated from the Old Bailey after staff heard five explosions and spotted smoke billowing from a fire in an electrical substation at the at the rear of the court.
Trials at the Central Criminal Court, known as the Old Bailey, were abruptly halted at around 10.40am on Wednesday morning as people were ushered outside.
London Fire Brigade said they were called to smoke issuing from the building, which is London’s most famous court - dating from 1785. Seven fire engines and 25 firefighters were dispatched to the scene.
The court’s top judge Mark Lucraft KC, the Recorder of London, told The Independent staff inside the court heard several loud bangs and saw black billowing smoke from an electrical substation at the back of the court building.
“There was a fire,” he said. “What most of us heard was some loud bangs and black billowing smoke. Power went off in the building. As far as I’m aware it’s the substation that’s sited in the Old Bailey building, so we are just waiting for U.K. power to come and see it before the fire brigade can go in.”
London Fire Brigade said the cause of the fire, which was under control by 2.07pm, is under investigation.
A spokesman added: “Four fire engines and around 25 firefighters responded to an incident involving an electrical substation on Warwick Lane, near the rear of the Old Bailey.
“Firefighters worked with UK Power Networks to make the scene safe and bring the fire under control. The ground floor substation was partly damaged in the incident. Around 1500 people were evacuated from the Old Bailey and surrounding area, and there are no reports of any injuries.
“The Brigade received the first of six calls reporting the incident at 1044, and crews had the fire under control by 1407. Firefighters from Dowgate, Soho and Dockhead Fire Station attended the scene. The cause of the fire is under investigation.”
The Criminal Bar Association said five separate explosions were heard from 10.30am as trials began or barristers were in judges’ chambers ahead of sitting.
Inside Court 5, where the trial of Constance Marten and Mark Gordon is in its third week, the lights started to flicker at around 10.40am before the power went out leaving the court in darkness.
Shortly afterwards, the fire alarm was sounded. Hundreds of people were evacuated, filing out of the building’s front entrance.
Later, defendants being held in the court’s custody suites - including Gordon - were seen being taken out of the building on foot and loaded into Serco prison vans on the road outside.
Dozens of barristers in black gowns and wigs lined the street on Wednesday as emergency services attended, many waiting to find out when the building will be re-opened for them to retrieve their belongings.
Juries were sent home for the day, according to the CBA. A total of 17 courts were listed to sit for trial before the disruption, which could last until Friday with no cases listed at the court on Thursday.
City of London Police temporary Chief Inspector Tom Fisher said: “There is no indication at this stage that this is anything other than an incident involving an electrical sub station.”
A UK Power Networks spokesman added: “Engineers were called to Paternoster Square in London at 11.10am after a fire was reported which has affected power supplies.
“We are working to restore supplies as quickly as is safely possible.”