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 629.

    People need to know that there is a consequence for improper behaviour.
    The consequence needs to be of a nature that discourages.

    If people think that they may get 4 years for trying to incite a riot then it works for me.

    To my mind looters need to get at least 4 years.

    My only concern is that the Conservatives will define criticising the government as inciting a riot!!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 628.


    Do you know the full history behind it? Was the prior to this, was there something else which triggered the 5 month sentence?

  • rate this

    Comment number 627.

    520. embarr

    fantastic... Cameron was a star member of that wasn't he? ROFLMAO

  • rate this

    Comment number 626.

    The Asian community has come out very high in this civil debacle. They are the truly respectable folk when compared to the white English rabble

    Just go on holiday to Spain for a taste of the English. Drunk all week starting with drunk when they get on the plane and drunk when they get back. Must be a nightmare for the airlines and hotel staff, all these drunk Brits staggering around the place!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 625.

    now its time for the government to be as hard on those individual bankers that caused the billions of pounds of mess we are in today

  • rate this

    Comment number 624.

    28 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"


    I know only 6 months for burglary! And this is supposed to be a tough sentence! But seriously he did commit a crime and obviously thought he wouldn't get charged.

  • rate this

    Comment number 623.

    We should remember though that even if they go to prison they will be in a large comfy building that could quite easily pass for an upmarket youth hostel. Indeed the presence of flatscreen TVs and Playstations in the cells makes it really more of a hotel. Bring back hard labour, corporal punishment and bread and water and then 6 months in prison might actually mean something.

  • rate this

    Comment number 622.

    I am shocked at how easily the courts system can deteriorate from being consistant and balanced to being reactionary and politicised which makes my feel less secure about the nature of our democracy not more. Sentencing should be within the guidelines set forth by the sentencing council. Punishment should be restorative and have a strong element of rehabilitation at the core.

  • rate this

    Comment number 621.

    I am often perplexed by the views of liberal minded people who often say things contrary to the common sense of most peoples perception. The public has a right to punish people who threaten to destroy it, the criminals (for that is what they are) fear punishment. The latter claim their "rights" without accepting any responsibility, why should we worry if they are handed severe penalties?

  • rate this

    Comment number 620.

    @511. He still TOOK something he didn't own. Whether its bottles of water or plasma TVs, he still TOOK IT. Do the crime, do the time.

  • rate this

    Comment number 619.

    This was treason - Traitors used to be hung, drawn and quartered so four years (presumably reduced to 2) is getting off lightly!

  • rate this

    Comment number 618.

    It's time people took responsibility for their actions. Trying to inflame people to go out and commit criminal acts is it's self a crime. These idiots will not have my sympathy. Those who lost their life, homes, jobs, business and were traumatized will.

  • rate this

    Comment number 617.

    Regarding the riot sentences, surely people were not only charged with stealing £3.50 worth of water from Lidl but also breaking and entering. I'm no lawyer but it seems petty taken out of context, but when you look at the bigger picture it was a joint effort and even the little things count because everybody involved contributed to the terror and destruction to public (and private) property

  • rate this

    Comment number 616.

    Of course rioters should be punished for wrong-doing. To excuse this kind of behaviour is utterly ludicrous

    I don't think any vaguely sensible person on here is saying they shouldn't be punished but some are saying punishment should be consistant & in accordance with normal sentencing guidlines

  • rate this

    Comment number 615.

    Andy Coulson deserves a second chance, but nobody else apparently. Four years for SAYING something (rather than actually doing anything) is beyond harsh - it's vindictive scape-goating. The judiciary are about the only remaining group to be trusted, and if they're being bullied into bypassing all sense of proportion based on the mob's bloodlust, then God help us all.

  • rate this

    Comment number 614.

    Justice ought to be blind. The sentence received upon conviction needs to be based on the offence, not the circumstances - I am no more in favour of overly-harsh sentences for rioters than I am for over-lenient ones given to offenders who come up with a sob-story about how deprivation 'made' them commit their offence.

  • rate this

    Comment number 613.

    I am not against tough sentences, I am for fairness and justice. To be fair, tough sentences should be handed out to bankers who destroyed peoples financial livelihoods with their greedy, risky practices, and for politicians who abused taxpayers money for their own enrichment. Did they get such a tough treatment? I rank their offences as more serious than the looters. A loot(er) continua...

  • rate this

    Comment number 612.

    There are some country's in the world where riotrs/looters would not be tolerated, you can guess who they. These rioters.looters have ruined the
    lifehood of thousands of people. What do they want a pat on the back from society, if the do gooders of this country have there way thats what they would get.

  • rate this

    Comment number 611.

    40,000 to keep someone in jail for six months, plus the compensation as a lot of these sentences will be over turned by the appeal courts. You must have a lot of public money to waste.

    make them wear pink boiler suits with looter written on the back and get them to work cleaning up the damage they caused. Not send them to prison to learn how to be hardened criminals at the tax payers expense

  • rate this

    Comment number 610.

    Comments by our elected representatives indicate that they are more interested in being re-elected than sorting out this mess.
    Shame they are not paid by results.


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