England riots: Court rejects Facebook sentence appeals

Jordan Blackshaw and Perry Sutcliffe-Keenan. Photos supplied by Cheshire Police The court upheld Jordan Blackshaw and Perry Sutcliffe-Keenan's four-year sentences

Appeals by two men jailed for using Facebook to try to incite disorder during August's riots in England have been rejected by the Court of Appeal.

Perry Sutcliffe-Keenan, 22, and Jordan Blackshaw, 21, were among 10 people challenging riot-related sentences.

At a 27 September hearing, the pair's lawyers argued that their four year sentences were "manifestly excessive".

The court rejected five other appeals but cut the sentences for three people convicted of handling stolen goods.

The Lord Chief Justice, Lord Judge, sitting with Sir John Thomas and Lord Justice Leveson at the Court of Appeal in London, read the judgements.

'Utterly shocking' lawlessness

Upholding the jail terms given to Blackshaw and Sutcliffe-Keenan, the Lord Chief Justice said the men had used technology for crime - and it was wrong to suggest their offences had been minor simply because they had not gone door-to-door encouraging people to riot.

"It is a sinister feature of these cases that modern technology almost certainly assisted rioters in other places," he said. "What both these appellants intended was to cause very serious crime. All this was incited at a time of sustained countrywide mayhem.

"The (sentencing) judge was fully justified in concluding that deterrent sentences were appropriate. These offenders were caught red-handed."

Blackshaw, from Northwich in Cheshire, and Sutcliffe-Keenan, from Warrington, both pleaded guilty to an offence under the Serious Crime Act 2007, which carried a maximum sentence of 10 years imprisonment.

Blackshaw admitted encouraging others to commit riot, burglary and criminal damage in Northwich, and Sutcliffe-Keenan pleaded guilty to encouraging others to commit riot in Latchford near Warrington, although there were no outbreaks of disorder in either case.

This judgement is as about as tough as it gets. The Court of Appeal has recognised the public revulsion in a robust condemnation of each offender. But the the top judges say the sentences should also reflect the context.

As the disorder spread, people had a choice to stay at home or contribute to the chaos by either joining in or, in the case of the Facebook duo, encouraging others to do so.

The Court of Appeal says those who were part of the disorder deserve tough sentences.

Offenders who opportunistically received stolen goods without taking part in the national smash-and-grab can be sentenced less severely.

In essence, the judges have paved the way for rioters and looters - and those who encouraged them - to be locked up for a long time. And that's very bad news for the hundreds glumly queuing up to be sentenced in Crown Courts.

As well as the Facebook appeals, the court rejected five appeals against sentence by looters jailed for burglary.

Lord Judge said the level of lawlessness during the riots "was utterly shocking and wholly inexcusable".

"The imposition of severe sentences, intended to provide both punishment and deterrence, must follow.

"It is very simple. Those who deliberately participate in disturbances of this magnitude, causing injury and damage and fear to even the most stout-hearted of citizens, and who individually commit further crimes during the course of the riots are committing aggravated crimes. They must be punished accordingly and the sentences should be designed to deter others," he said.

"The offenders were deriving support and comfort and encouragement from being together with other offenders, and offering comfort support and encouragement to the offenders around them."

Lord Judge said the "sheer numbers involved" may have led some to believe they would escape detection.

BBC home affairs correspondent Dominic Casciani says the judgements pave the way for judges across England to impose tough jail sentences in cases yet to come to court.

Challenges allowed:

  • Stephen Craven, 24, of Salford, jailed for 12 months after pleading guilty to handling stolen goods - sentence halved to six months
  • Stephen Carter, 26, of James Street, Salford, Greater Manchester, who was caught with a bag of clothes and shoes worth £500 and jailed for 16 months for theft by finding - sentenced halved to eight months
  • Coach driver David Beswick, 31, of Anson Street, Eccles, jailed for 18 months for handling stolen goods - sentenced halved to nine months

Appeals rejected:

  • Jordan Blackshaw, 21, of Northwich, Cheshire, jailed for four years after admitting encouraging a riot on Facebook, which never happened
  • Perry Sutcliffe-Keenan, 22, of Warrington, Cheshire, jailed for four years after admitting encouraging a riot on Facebook, which never happened
  • Chef Enrico Vanasco, 25, jailed for 20 months after admitting burglary relating to a £300 camera
  • Hassan Halloway, 39, of Bennett Street, Crumpsall, who was jailed for four years and eight months after admitting burglary charges and violent disorder
  • Territorial Army soldier Lorraine McGrane, 19, from Peckham, south-east London, jailed for 13 months after admitting stealing a television

MPs, legal figures and justice campaigners have previously argued that disproportionate sentences have been handed down for riot-related offences.

Violence broke out in the north London district of Tottenham in August after a protest over the fatal police shooting of local man Mark Duggan.

Between 6 and 9 August, the disorder spread to several other English cities, including Birmingham, Manchester and Nottingham. Shops were looted, buildings burned and the deaths of five people have been linked to the rioting.

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