UK / Europe — 17 August 2011
Retributive Riot Sentencing

Two young men have been given four year jail sentences for using facebook in “attempts to fuel riots in Cheshire”, even though neither post led to anything actually occurring. This has led to lots of hand-wringing (belatedly) about how disproportionate the sentences being dished out to those being brought to court on the back of the riots and looting in the UK last week.

In the absence of official statistics being to hand at this point – the following few anecdotes should give a flavour of the kind of sentences being handed out over the last week of court hearings. It should be kept in mind that these are the less harsh sentences being handed out by the magistrates court, and the more “heavy sentences” that most of the looters will face will occur when they appear before the Crown court, with many of them remanded in custody in the meantime.

The most serious charges appear to be linked to assaulting police officers and public order offences, with a number of people already sentenced for both these offences. Bernard Moore was jailed for 20 weeks for assaulting a police office. Aaron Grimmer was given 4 months for the same offence. In three other cases, Paul Obonyano was jailed for 14 weeks for assaulting a police officer and a public order offence, Jason Ullett was jailed for 10 weeks for a public order offence after struggling with police, and Tom Skinkis was sentenced to four months for a public order offence.

At the same time, one young man who was not involved in the looting was charged with telling a policeman “I’d smash you if you took your uniform off” before being pinned to the ground and arrested, and was given 16 weeks. It appears inconsistent that someone spends more time or similar amounts of time in jail for saying something in the heat of the moment on his way home as people who were found guilty of actually being involved in scuffles with the police.

Actual theft which people have been sentenced for so far include the cases of Eoin Flanagan who pleaded guilty to theft after he was arrested in Oxford Road with two jumpers and two pieces of musical equipment, getting eight months inside. On the other hand, Nicholas Robinson was given 6 months for opportunistically stealing bottles of water worth £3.50 from Lidl while walking home due to thirst. (The MP excuse that everyone else was doing it, wasn’t given much time in court).

At this point, more alarm bells start to ring, but that is before we get to the most absurd sentences being handed out, including a couple given for handling stolen goods. Wilson Unses was jailed for six months for receiving stolen property which were two tennis racquets worth £340 looted from a sports shop in south London. These were given to him to repay a debt he was owed.

But arguably the worst example so far is that of the mother of two Ursala Nevin, who was jailed for five months for receiving a pair of shorts given to her after they had been looted from a city centre store. She had been asleep throughout the riots and didn’t even leave her home at any point.

What makes her sentence even more ridiculous, is that it was given by the same magistrate (Khalid Qureshi) who just a couple of days earlier had given Bernard Moore his 20 week sentence for assaulting a police office, as well as Ricky Gemmell 16 weeks for using abusive language towards one. In the aftermath of those sentences, it was reported that the police believed that some of the sentences handed out at that point had been too lenient. It appears that under pressure to appease both the police and public opinion, the courts have begun handing out what appear to be arbitrary sentences and this young single mother of two was one of his apparent victims.

It is only after the sentencing of the Facebook two for a combined eight years that it has begun to sink in across the media how far the courts have gone in dishing out harsh punitive sentences out of all proportion caught up in the media frenzy for retribution. Of course the whole judiciary and its apparatus is supposed to be “independent”, but these events just go to highlight again how the courts can be used by the establishment to set the tone desired by the political elites that social disorder will not be tolerated irrespective of the circumstances, and the disproportionate  heavy-handedness falls onto those in society who generally don’t have a voice or much influence (in other words – the masses).

When it is added that some families face eviction from social housing as a result of their sons or daughters taking part in the looting, this looks much more like vindictiveness than any sense of justice. The public is informed that all this is fine – since these riots were driven by the greed of an ugly underclass, summed up in Cameron’s words “They were nicking televisions because they wanted a television and they weren’t prepared to save up and get it like normal people”. Much like his colleagues in parliament.

These events point to the old adage – one rule for the rich…..


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