PM defends 'tough' riot sentences handed out by courts


David Cameron: "We should allow courts to make decisions about sentencing"

Prime Minister David Cameron has defended courts for handing out "tough" sentences for those involved in the riots across England.

Some MPs and campaigners say there were examples of terms being too harsh.

On Tuesday, two men were jailed for four years at Chester Crown Court for using Facebook to incite riots. One is to appeal against the sentence.

Lord Carlile, Lib Dem peer and Howard League for Penal Reform president, said some decisions were "questionable".

The barrister told the BBC "ringleaders should receive very long sentences" but warned "there was an issue of proportionality" over the way people already before the courts had been treated.

The PM said it was good that the courts were sending a "tough message".

Speaking in Warrington, he said: "It's up to the courts to make decisions about sentencing, but they've decided to send a tough message and it's very good that the courts feel able to do that."

In other developments:

From the court

The Metropolitan Police have now charged more than 1,000 people in connection with the rioting and looting - and 21 of them appeared at Highbury Corner Magistrates' Court on Wednesday.

Chelsea Ives, denied burglary, violent disorder and attacking a police car, and held her head in her hands as she entered the dock. She was remanded in custody until 7 September. She had contacted police herself after a call to detectives by her mother. Her mother left the court in tears.

Almost all of the defendants dealt with by lunchtime were refused bail.

District Judge Nina Tempia said the circumstances of the rioting meant many defendants claiming previous good character could not be bailed.

One defendant denied bail was supported by his family in court, offering bail sureties and guarantees he would be monitored at home. But he went back to jail, shaking his head as he was escorted away.

So far, more than 2,770 people have been arrested in connection with last week's riots.

Some 1,297 people have now appeared before the courts, with the majority of charges relating to burglary, theft and handling, and violence and violent disorder offences.

In a statement, the Ministry of Justice stressed that the magistrates and judges were independent of government.

A spokesman added: "Their sentencing decisions are based on the individual circumstances of each case and offender.

"That is why different offenders may be given different sentences for what might appear to be similar crimes. To provide a consistent base for these decisions an independent body of experts, the Sentencing Council, set guidelines for them to use."

Meanwhile, the Courts and Tribunals Service says legal clerks in court have been advising magistrates to "consider whether their powers of punishment are sufficient in dealing with some cases arising from the recent disorder".

Magistrates are able to refer cases to crown courts which have tougher sentencing powers.

'Beyond the ordinary'

BBC legal correspondent Clive Coleman said the sentences being handed out across the country for offences of dishonesty such as theft, burglary and receiving stolen goods, suggested there were disparities between courts.

Duchess of Cornwall and Prince of Wales speak to worker at Tottenham Leisure Centre on 17 August 2011 The Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall have visited areas of London hit by the riots

What the public was seeing may just be a "distorted version of the normal system", our correspondent said.

In another case, David Beswick, 31 from Salford was sentenced to 18 months in prison for handling stolen goods.

Our legal correspondent said under normal circumstances Beswick would have been given a mid-range community sentence.

Max Hill QC, vice-chairman of the Criminal Bar Association said it was not the job of judges "to deliver a political message on behalf of the government" when passing sentence but part of their role was to identify "serious aggravating features that elevate the crime beyond the ordinary".

He added: "In the case of the two in Chester, it seems that is exactly what the judge has done."

One serving judge, Charles Harris QC, told the BBC it was not possible for the courts to achieve absolute consistency in sentencing as "no two offences are the same".

Riot sentences

  • Anderson Fernandes, 22, was warned by a judge at Manchester Magistrates' Court he may face jail for stealing two scoops of ice cream. He will be sentenced next week after admitting burglary.
  • Nicolas Robinson, 23, of Borough, south-east London, was jailed for six months for burglary. He took a £3.50 case of water from Lidl supermarket
  • Mother-of-two Ursula Nevin, from Manchester, was jailed for five months for receiving a pair of shorts given to her after they had been looted from a city centre store.

"Judge and magistrates do look in the best way they can at the circumstances of the offence and the offender in front of them. In some cases, they might legitimately say, this goes beyond any existing guideline," he added.

Communities Secretary Eric Pickles told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "We need to understand that people for a while thought that this was a crime without consequence - we cannot have people being frightened in their beds, frightened in their own homes for their public safety.

"That is why these kind of exemplary sentences are necessary. I think people would be rightly alarmed if that incitement to riot got off with just a slap on the wrist."


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  • rate this

    Comment number 609.

    I do think that people who took part in the riots need to be punished but in a way that will benefit them and society. Would it not be better to make them give back to society through community service? I get the feeling the government are encouraging these tough sentences to act as a deterrent as they are not capable of dealing with further riots.

  • rate this

    Comment number 608.

    There was a riot here in Vancouver in June after our team lost in the hockey final. The rioters were mostly young adults who thought it would be cool to destroy and loot. So far, no one has been charged or convicted, despite hours of videotape . The swift justice and stiff sentences handed out in Britain is exactly what is needed here to provide deterrence in similar future circumtances.

  • rate this

    Comment number 607.

    And yet the example we set to dissuade members of parliament from stealing tens of thousands of pounds of OUR money is a few months of house arrest. Yay for double standards and hypocrisy!

  • rate this

    Comment number 606.

    521. lexyfaps

    why not? the Mp's said sorry - they got away with it, the Bankers said sorry they all got away with it ....

    when the people smashed up fred the shreds house in scootland you were all for it... all of you... not one bad word.. .where were your morals on high bloody horses then? or where you the same ANGRY MOB jumping on the band wagon... get a life people!

  • rate this

    Comment number 605.

    To those bleating about 'Human Rights' I say, study what human rights are really about before you whinge.
    Basic human rights have no bearing on whether a criminal should be publicly identified or given a meaningful sentence, custodial or not. The right to life, freedom of speech, to peacefully protest are legitimate rights. Trashing shops and looting ("shopping by violence") are not!

  • rate this

    Comment number 604.

    504. Nj_rover - i'm pretty sure most peoples' terror regarding the situation was derrived from the media's coverage of the spectacle/debaucle. so if "Context is everything", can we blame the news corporations for making everyone so aware and timid? can we blame them for spreading collective fear?

    welp @ britain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 603.

    498. If the sentencing guidelines have been warped here then they should permanently be warped. People complain that its too harsh, well, perhaps if you look at it differently, its normally too lenient. These are the right sentences. Is it just me that thinks community service for handling stolen goods is disgusting... and thats NORMAL??

  • rate this

    Comment number 602.

    26 Minutes ago

    "Nicolas Robinson, 23, of Borough, south-east London, was jailed for six months for burglary. He took a £3.50 case of water from Lidl supermarket"

    The most expensive free water I have ever heard of - he should have just turned his tap on.

  • rate this

    Comment number 601.

    I would like a review of all sentancing.
    If someone has a raft of previous convictions then they should be given meaningful nd lenghty jail time. Supervision orders,suspended sentances ,and fines where they pay £2 a week are no deterrant.
    prison DOES work, as you cant offend when your inside.
    stop pandering to the minority.
    Magistrates should be able to jail for up to 3 years

  • rate this

    Comment number 600.

    "In other developments:
    A teenager who has volunteered to be an Olympic Games ambassador has denied offences linked to rioting in Enfield, north London"

    Thomas Hamilton volunteered to be a Scout leader in Dunblane. Luckily he was turned down. He went on to shoot many small children and their teacher. So volunteering doesn't mean you're innocent. This is sloppy journalism.

  • rate this

    Comment number 599.

    Rioters assume banks and commercial operations will forget.
    Insurance companies and banks never forget,and insurers already raised premiums in certain areas further penalizing the businesses and cities.
    The power to insure is the power to destroy.
    US riots led to the destruction of entire neighborhoods. Sixty years later and they have not yet fully recovered.

  • rate this

    Comment number 598.

    I agree with all comments relating to the severity of these incidents but I cant help thinking that labelling a vaste swathe of London's youth as criminals is going 2 leave us with another major unemployment problem in the future. We cant remove ppl from our society (no matter how much some may want to, our society just dsnt work in that manner) we will have to re-integrate these ppl at some point

  • rate this

    Comment number 597.

    Every rioter is in some way responsible for ALL the destruction, death, carnation & bringing fear to the land- a destructive wave is made up of many tiny droplets & all have some effect. ANYONE moaning about the harshness of sentences should see the harshness of the destruction they left to people's business & lives.

  • rate this

    Comment number 596.

    All this heated debate over punishment is exactly what the Government wants, since it acts as a smokescreen to deceive the public and hide the truth - the truth that government policies are ultimately to blame for the riots, and yes, that includes cuts. World be not deceived, for none are better at deceipt than the British Establishment. Who to punish, who is responsible? Think again!

  • rate this

    Comment number 595.

    The sentences are not severe enough.
    This country has lost all discipline & the law is all in favor of the criminal.
    The police are powerless to act because of all this human rights nonsense plus the excessive paperwork involved in any case.
    A good birching is the only deterrent to bring back law & order to the streets.

  • rate this

    Comment number 594.

    So 4 years for incitement to riot - i am more shocked at the penal refoirm league comments - I can't believe it's only 4 years for threatening with a knife or sexual assault - it is these sentences which should be longer not the incitement to riot shorter.. where is the DETERRENT???

  • rate this

    Comment number 593.

    These sentences are indeed harsh. Hopefully all the sentences handed out will be harsh but consistent. If a prison term is right for one person in one court, then it is right for another person in another court too. Inconsistency will reflect negatively on the judiciary. To those who rioted and were caught, what did you expect - that the government would build you a community centre ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 592.

    So anyone who disagrees with you is a scrounger on benefits.

    As for
    "ditch the European Court of Human Right and lets have a British version"
    Thats what the Human rights act did, previously all Human rights cases had to be heard in The Council of Europe Court, The Human Righs act allowed Human Rights cases to be heard in British courts.

  • rate this

    Comment number 591.

    Wow, going to prison for stealing ice cream and water....

    Doesn't it remind anyone of a specific novel by Victor Hugo?

  • rate this

    Comment number 590.

    499. Goodsy

    Well said; People need to open their eyes that just because RBS, Goldman-Sachs et al are not running around London smashing things up, does not mean they are not hurting every UK citizen. We are angry but the focus for me is completely off the mark


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