The world's oldest police force, formed in 1285 to protect York Minster, has been given back its powers of arrest for the first time in 80 years.

The private force's eight specially trained Cathedral Constables will be permitted to carry truncheons and apprehend and detain criminal suspects within the Minster's grounds, giving them the same powers as regular North Yorkshire Police officers.

The York Minster constabulary was formed to protect the walled area around the cathedral, known as the Liberty, and can be seen as similar to the Vatican's Swiss Guard. But the unit's powers diminished from the 1830s after Sir Robert Peel formed the first modern police force in London.

The Cathedral Constables lost their powers of arrest in the 1930s, when they ceased to be sworn in like regular officers.

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But now - after the signing of a memorandum of understanding between the Very Rev Vivienne Faull, Dean of York, and North Yorkshire Police Superintendent Adam Thomson - those powers are to be reinstated and co-operation between the two forces is to be improved.

The cathedral's head of security, Mark Sutcliffe, said: "York Minster is one of only seven cathedrals in the world to maintain its own police force, which has played an important role in the rich history of the Minster.

"The memorandum of understanding acts as a formal agreement between the cathedral and North Yorkshire Police around operational policing responsibilities within the Minster and its precinct." He added: "The new training and attestation ensures our Cathedral Constables have the professional skills and powers necessary to execute their duties."

The agreement follows last year's row between the Minster authorities and a group of bell-ringers over a sexual assault allegation which led to an entire team of bell-ringers being dismissed last October. Later attempts to recruit replacement ringers then became mired in controversy after claims that people were being intimidated.

Other cathedrals to maintain their own internal police forces include Liverpool's Anglican Cathedral as well as Canterbury, Hereford and Chester.