The UK has turned back the clock when it comes to sentencing and is now jailing people for even mentioning rioting on their Facebook pages.
In a bizarre move worthy of Judge Jeffries, Judge Elgan Edwards sentenced two men to four years at a young offender’s institution for inciting other people to riot in their home towns.
However all was not as it seems. Jordan Blackshaw, 20, set up an “event” called Smash Down in Northwich Town for the night of August 8 on the social networking site. No one turned up at the prearranged meeting point outside a McDonald’s restaurant other than Blackshaw and the coppers.
Perry Sutcliffe-Keenan, 22, of Latchford, Warrington, used his Facebook account in the early hours of August 9 to design a web page entitled The Warrington Riots.
Prosecutors were told that it caused a wave of panic in the town. When he woke up the following morning with a hangover, he removed the page and apologised, saying it had been a joke.
Apparently the message was distributed to 400 Facebook contacts and no rioting broke out.
Blackshaw was told by Judge Edwards, QC, that he had committed an “evil act” at a time when collective insanity gripped the nation. His conduct was quite disgraceful and the title of the message he posted on Facebook chilled the blood.
He said that Blackshaw sought to take advantage of crime elsewhere and transpose it to the peaceful streets of Northwich.
Meanwhile the judge said that Sutcliffe-Keenan “caused a very real panic” and “put a very considerable strain on police resources in Warrington”.
It is not surprising that the heavy sentences have been attacked by defence lawyers and civil rights groups.
Apparently magistrates were advised by justices’ clerks to disregard normal sentencing guidelines when dealing with riot-related cases and do what every middle class magistrate would love to do.
Yesterday a looter was warned he could be jailed for helping himself to an ice-cream cone during disturbances. It all harkens back to the good old days when magistrates could transport criminals to the colonies for shoplifting a loaf of bread.
The Ministry of Justice’s latest estimate claims that the courts have dealt with 1,277 offenders of and banged up more than 700. Two-thirds of the cases were in London.
One in five of the cases have been kids. Most of the kids arrested have been in Nottingham, Birmingham and Manchester.
But Sally Ireland, policy director of the law-reform organisation Justice told AP that the circumstances of public disorder should be treated as an aggravating factor and one would expect that to push up sentences by a degree, but not by as far as some of the cases which have seen.
Some of these sentences are completely out of all proportion and there will be appeals.