England riots one year on: Culprits jailed for 1,800 years

By Ed Davey
BBC News, London

image captionThe riots were scarring for London - mentally and physically

Prison sentences totalling more than 1,800 years have been handed out to rioters following the disorder which began exactly a year ago.

Riots and looting began in Tottenham, north London, on 7 August 2011 after police shot Mark Duggan.

It swiftly spread becoming the worst public disorder for a generation.

A year on from the unrest, Ministry of Justice figures show that a total of 1,292 offenders have been jailed for their part in the trouble.

The average custodial sentence was 16.8 months - more than four times the average term handed down by magistrates' courts for similar offences.

It means courts have issued approximately 1,808 years of sentences to rioters.

In an interview with BBC London to mark a year since the riots, the Crown Prosecution Service's chief prosecutor Alison Saunders backed the swift and tough justice meted out to culprits.

She said: "One thing we also learned in the disorder is that if we can get people in court fast and get them sentenced it acts as a deterrent - it made people think twice.

"I do think the criminal justice response was particularly important. People could see there were consequences.

"They could see the criminal justice system responding and that sent a really strong message from society that this was unacceptable."

The riots were the single biggest challenge the Crown Prosecution Service has ever faced.

Ms Saunders said at the height of the caseload, paperwork on rioters was coming in "literally by the sackful".

Courts opened overnight to clear the backlog with prosecutors from across the region travelling to London to help out.

Even Ms Saunders herself had to carry out prosecutions.

She said: "I hadn't been in court for seven years.

"It really was back to the coalface."

"The London prosecutors particularly were saying: 'This is going on in our city - we want to volunteer, and we want to get London back on its feet'."

A year on, the CPS is still dealing with approximately 10 riot-related cases a week.

Some 308 defendants still face live proceedings over their alleged roles in the mayhem.

"It is definitely the largest operation the CPS has ever done," Ms Saunders said.

A specialised unit, consisting of 30 staff, including 10 prosecutors, was set up to deal with riot offences.

Ms Saunders said there was no end to the riot-related prosecutions in sight, although the CPS hoped that the majority of the work would be complete by the end of 2012.

However, Ms Saunders admitted some rioters would never be caught. She said: "There is a proportion of offenders who will not be identified - but I have no idea what that proportion is."

media captionLocal traders in Tottenham have struggled to get compensation for businesses damaged during the riots

Staff at the CPS have been shocked by some of the individual stories to come out of the trouble.

Ms Saunders points to a mother-and-daughter team of rioters as a particularly egregious example.

The youngest defendant dealt with by the CPS was aged 11 years and six months.

Meanwhile a senior Metropolitan Police officer has admitted his force still has more to do to rebuild community relations after the riots.

Assistant Commissioner Mark Rowley told BBC London: "Could we have done better? We've been very honest, we could've done.

"The officers at the time were working their hearts out for their communities.

"Did we do everything we would have hoped to have done? No we didn't."

Assistant Commissioner Rowley went on to say more work was needed to build bridges with the Tottenham community.

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