London riots: Millionaire's daughter Laura Johnson jailed
- 25 May 2012
- From the section London
A millionaire's daughter who drove looters around London during the 2011 riots has been jailed for two years.
Laura Johnson, 20, of Orpington, south-east London, had denied charges of burglary and handling stolen goods, claiming she was acting under duress.
But the judge at Inner London Crown Court said she played "a pivotal role" in law-breaking on 8 August.
She was convicted of taking goods from a Comet store and handling a stolen television from a Currys outlet.
Johnson was joined in the dock by a teenage boy, who had previously admitted burglary by stealing alcohol and cigarettes from a BP garage in Charlton, south-east London.
He can now be named as Christopher Edwards, 17, after the judge lifted an order banning his identification.
Edwards was sentenced to 12 months at a young offenders' institution.
Passing sentence, Judge Patricia Lees observed that Johnson's reaction to the arrival of the police was to put her foot on the accelerator of her car - despite an officer standing in front of it.
She told Johnson and Edwards: "Your actions added to the overall lawlessness that threatened to overwhelm the forces of law and order.
"You both come from loving and supportive homes - of neither of you could it be said that your parents have not provided every advantage they could for you.
"You both revealed your weaker side to your characters in taking advantage of an escalating situation because you thought you could get away with it and would not be caught."
Turning to Johnson, she said: "You were pivotal to this planned criminal enterprise.
"You went out willingly that night knowing what you were about to get involved in."
Bandanas and balaclavas
Jurors were told that Johnson drove several looters around various shops during the height of the riots.
Her passengers jumped from the car wearing hooded tops, bandanas and balaclavas and loaded it with stolen electronic goods.
Johnson - who is reading English and Italian at Exeter University - is a former grammar school pupil who reportedly achieved four A*s and nine As at GCSE.
She is the daughter of wealthy couple Robert and Lindsay Johnson, who own direct marketing business Avongate Ltd.
In mitigation, her barrister Martin McCartney said she was a bright, intelligent, articulate young woman who was then at a very low ebb and argued she was unlikely to offend again.
He said: "At the time of the offence, placing what she did against the background of who she is, this was completely out of character.
"It is not beyond the realms of reason that the way she acted might have been affected by the emotional turmoil she was in."
Johnson will serve half of her two-year sentence in prison, minus 144 days, due to time spent under a qualifying curfew.
Her defence had been to claim she acted under duress because she was afraid of her passengers.
A University of Exeter spokeswoman said: "The University of Exeter is aware of the sentence that has been given to Laura Johnson.
"We will now consider the outcome in order to determine the best way forward with regards to Laura's studies at the university."
Det Sgt Mark Gilchrist, of the Metropolitan Police, said: "We would like to thank all members of the public that have provided us with vital information, which, as in the case of Laura Johnson, has formed part of the prosecution."