General Question

RareDenver's avatar

Are some of the sentences being handed out to UK rioters too severe or does the fact the crimes were committed during the riots justify the stiffer sentences?

Asked by RareDenver (13141points) August 18th, 2011

some examples are:

Nicolas Robinson, 23, of Borough, south-east London, who pleaded guilty and was jailed for six months for burglary. He took a £3.50 case of water from Lidl supermarket. He had no relevant previous convictions.

David Beswick got 18 months in prison following a guilty plea to handling stolen goods. Beswick was given a flat screen television to put in his car and had no previous convictions for offences of dishonesty.

Jordan Blackshaw, 21, of Marston, and Perry Sutcliffe-Keenan, 22, of Warrington, were jailed for four years each after admitting using Facebook to incite disorder, although none actually resulted.

In normal times these offences would be highly unlikely to result in prison time. Are the harsher sentences justified due to the crimes taking place during wider disorder or are the Judges unfairly treating these people to satisfy political and public opinion?

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33 Answers

ucme's avatar

They’re clearly using these as benchmark cases in the hope that the extreme sentences will act as a deterrent in the future. Good luck with that & I mean that both genuinely & with a hint of skepticism.

josie's avatar

Not too severe. For the reasons you gave.
Petty thievery is in the normal spectrum of police work.
Rioters who damage or steal public and private property are pushing the limit of what the police can actually handle, and as such pose a real threat to social cohesion. Legal justice in that case should reflect the risk that the behavior represents.
The bigger the problem, the bigger the example in sentencing.

Blueroses's avatar

It’s reactionary justice. The people are scared and furious and their raw nerves are demanding harsh punishments for the ones who were caught. I would bet these examples are also being used to to pressure people into turning in accomplices to obtain reduced sentences.

rebbel's avatar

Some of the ones that I heard of are pretty severe, but then again, the acts were either.
“To put an example” I have heard some politicians say.
I don’t buy that…, a..holes who went to the streets last week to loot and riot won’t be thinking the next time an opportunity presents itself “Ah, wait, didn’t Cameron warned us, and weren’t some of the rioters last time been given lenghty jail times….., well, I think I will stay home then.”
What does sound a bit fishy to me is the fact that in similar cases in the past (although the circumstances may differ) sentences were lighter (as one correspondent stated in the news yesterday).

Tropical_Willie's avatar

@Blueroses all justice is reactionary ( reaction to a crime ). The damage to the London persona will show during the Olympic games next year. When people stay home and watch the games on their Telly.
The stolen items were taken during a RIOT.
How many millions of pound sterling of glass store fronts were broken? Riots do not help the economy only the person that “boosted the goods”.

CaptainHarley's avatar

I would imagine the penalties for “looting” are considerably stiffer than those for mere petty thievary.

marinelife's avatar

They have to get a grip on civil order in England.

I suspect many will get their sentences reduced in appeal.

Pied_Pfeffer's avatar

On the surface, no, this doesn’t sound fair. Nor does it seem like the right direction to take if those found guilty get tossed in a jail. Sitting in a cell may teach a lesson for some, but I highly suspect that it will do any good for most.

I’d like to see them doing some supervised volunteer work in the copious amount of work it will take to ‘clean up’ the repercussions of their actions. It could be helping a vandalized business get back on their feet, earning money to replace the torched vehicles, finding a new place and belongings for those that lost their dwellings, or processing police reports and insurance claims.

RareDenver's avatar

Nicolas Robinson must really be feeling shit that he is serving 6 months for stealing something that he could have gotten straight from any tap in his house.

athenasgriffin's avatar

I certainly think that using facebook to incite disorder is a crime I’ve not heard of, and one that I would not consider reasonable to hold a four year sentence.

flutherother's avatar

The sentences are very severe to reflect the public and political outrage and fear at what occurred on the streets of our cities. The idea is that they will act as a deterrent to future rioters. In some of the cases coming before the courts the sentences are too severe and will likely be reduced on appeal.

Which is the greater crime; A) Stealing a bottle of water from a supermarket shelf B) Picking up a bottle of water lying on the floor of a shop which is lying open to the street following rioting.

It seems a lesser crime to take water following a riot when civil order has broken down but this is the crime the law looks on more severely. It isn’t the bottle of water that is being protected so much a the rule of law itself.

wundayatta's avatar

If these sentences hold, then they will be cutting off their collective nose to spite their collective face. That is, these show sentences are likely to create more criminal behavior. These kids will be turned into criminals in prison and with a huge chip on their shoulders, when they come out, they will surely try to get their own back.

whitenoise's avatar

In the examples given, I feel the sentences were too stiff. In general, I am not really in favor of increased punishment ‘to set an example’. Sentences should fit the crime. Period.

Political sentencing will just create and justify more misery.

rOs's avatar

I highly recommend reading this article before deciding where you stand on this situation (and whatever side that may be, I hope it doesn’t include violence).

RareDenver's avatar

@rOs that is a good article and exactly why I asked this question, I still don’t know fully how I feel about these sentences, I’ve said it on other threads and I’ll say it here. MP’s that claim expenses for Plasma screen TV’s that hang in their living room are not so far removed from someone who takes one from an unguarded smashed up electrical store. It seems to be an attitude of it’s okay if you don’t get caught at both the very top and very bottom of our society. It’s only us in the middle that seem to have any grasp on reality and us that seems to fund the whole of society too.

whitenoise's avatar

All in all, I feel getting caught in a situation where all normal justice seems to have crumbled down makes it easy to take a wrong step. For that reason, I am more opposed to someone consciously and deliberately committing a crime than to someone caught in the motion of things bigger than him/herself.

In 2000, my wife and I were caught in a hurricane in Central America. In the wake of that disaster, we accepted a couple of bottles that were handed out in front of a heavily damaged shop. Only when we came by a couple of minutes later and saw the police guarding the place, we realized we had taken part in plundering a store. We needed the water and didn’t return it, even though we felt guilty.

We now realize judgment is easier from your comfy armchair.

DarlingRhadamanthus's avatar

Articles are fine…but I can relate from real life experiences with what is really happening here.

Frankly, if you take my money to buy a plasma TV for your office as an MP, at least my windows weren’t broken into, nor my privacy invaded, nor do I have to live in fear. I can be angry that my (very high) taxes are paying for your TV and get involved to do something about that (which I have). But when yobs run free attacking you and you have no recourse (as in this country if you defend yourself you are the one arrested) it gets to be “mob rule.” So, I can’t stand by that argument. I knew a man in our community who had his new fence kicked in by students going by one day…just for grins…when he came out and began to shout at them (and he had a few spicy words, I’m sure) the next day, the police came and arrested him for harassment. Never mind that the fence was destroyed completely and no one paid for it. This is the skewed law that has been ruling the land here. I’m not talking hypothetical here…I’m talking about having lived through it myself as well.

The present government has had to come down hard because of the “wild-do-as-you-please-we-don’t-want-to-offend-anyone” governing of the previous administration (aka “the-handout-and-even-if-you-bite-it-I’ll-still-give-you-more” government). That sort of leadership led to a free for all belief that if the government doesn’t provide….we will just take because we are entitled to it.

Yes, the sentences for some were harsh (I think they will be reduced in appeal) but it was necessary to send out a strong note that this sort of behavior will not be tolerated. And under the circumstances, there was not much else to be done. The “molly coddling” that has led to a society of entitlement must come to an end. And the only way to do it was to be strict and punish the offenders. It has been the exact opposite (too much permissiveness by the authorities in the past) that has led to this mess. Couple that with a tanking economy and you have a lethal mix. Teens have been allowed to burgle, steal, set fires and even kill for years (a gay man was kicked to death in full view of a CCTV camera in a crowded square by teens last year in a crowded square) with relatively no remorse. They have beaten the elderly in the streets simply to steal a bit of money.

I have been (unfortunately) privy to being harassed and attacked by similar youth and it was not pleasant. My property has been damaged, too. And no, I was not at fault either. I was just a “target” on their trail. I once volunteered to help at a youth group. One young student was calling another girl “gay” and jeering at her in the most vicious way possible.He was directly in her face as she sat attempting to do her homework. “Gay, gay, gay, gay, gay…” he kept jeering…and she was visibly shaken. I went up to him and told him quietly (so I would not embarrass him) to please stop. He turned on me and began to shout the most heinous invectives possible. I stood in horror as the other (British) adults did nothing to come to my aid. I finally said, “Young man, you may speak to your parents in this way, but you do not speak to me that way…now, get out now. And do not come back here until you learn some manners.” I was taken into a back room by the head of the organization and told that they realized I was “American” and probably didn’t know…but that it would “behoove me” to simply not say anything. But he was harassing that poor girl! I said. “Yes..well…but..blah blah blah political correctness…blah blah..” What about that girl? What about common decency and humanity? It’s okay to harass gays? Apparently decency was not in the cards. This is the truth of life in Great Britain.

Sentences were harsh…but they had to be given the previous handling of these situations which led a lot of the young to think that they were the criminally invincible. In the USA, no one would have gotten away with ¼ of what the youth of this country have done in the past two decades. It’s a real shame that it had to come to this.

There are a lot of great kids in the UK, don’t get me wrong…I’ve met some nice kids. And these children have parents that have brought them up well. But the few are ruining it for the many. I hope this will change. I still have hope for this country.


PS And by the way, I have done work in the inner cities US with youth and gang members…and they were more polite than some of the (outlaw) youth I’ve encountered here. It’s strange how gang members in the US somehow still had some respect for adults. I didn’t find that here.

woodcutter's avatar

I was wanting to post something exactly like that but I figured it would bring a shitstorm from the progressive don’t be mean to criminals crowd here. Usually I don’t care because I’m fireproof (No pun intended) but at the time I didn’t feel like dealing with the heartburn. So glad there is someone who is right there with those views. @DarlingRhadamanthus GA

CaptainHarley's avatar


I’m hearing much the same thing from my friends in the UK. They’re also telling me that a number of the rioters were well-paid professional people.

poisonedantidote's avatar

Nicolas Robinson, 23, of Borough…. You get to go home.

David Beswick…. You get 6 months minimum.

Jordan Blackshaw, 21, of Marston, and Perry Sutcliffe-Keenan, 22, of Warrington… You get to go home.


Yes, these sentences are too harsh, just another example of government making an example out of people because it is convenient for them at the time.

harple's avatar

From the BBC news webpage today:

__A judge has released a woman who was jailed for accepting looted shorts in what is thought to be the first appeal against a sentence over the unrest.__

__Ursula Nevin, 24, was jailed for five months in Manchester, but has now been ordered to do voluntary work.__

__MPs and campaigners have said some of the sentences given to those involved in England’s riots were too harsh…__

__…Earlier this week, Nevin was jailed by a district judge who heard she had been asleep at home during the riots but later accepted the shorts which had been looted from a city centre shop by a friend…__

rOs's avatar

A 23-year-old engineering student with no prior convictions was sentenced to six months in prison for looting bottled water worth $5.

Two young men from the outskirts of Manchester were each given four years in prison for inciting others to riot through Facebook postings. This postings did not lead to any violence.

8/19/11 – The Sydney Morning Herald

woodcutter's avatar

If many of these tough sentence stick, I think the idea would be to use these social networking sites to spread the word quickly that Nigel Soanso went up the river for putting a match to a building. The populace won’t need to wait for the local rag to print to learn this. They will get and spread the message with a mouse click same as they used it to call each other to gather up the yob- mob and do damage with utmost efficiency. Brilliant.

rOs's avatar

Guardian data confirms courts opt for tougher punishments, and shows the demographic of those charged.

bags's avatar

Looting, rioting and inciting as to riot. We’re not talking a simple B&E. These individuals weren’t where they were because they were on their way home from church. They were there with intent to participate in rioting and looting. It was only fortuitous that more people weren’t killed…..and no thanks to these young men. Mob psychology is what happens when a bunch of people get together and basically egg each other on and do things they would never, ever consider otherwise.

woodcutter's avatar

I think the most disturbing acts were the robbing and steeling of victim’s clothes while they were at it humiliating them further. There some very twisted minds at play that go beyond the burning and looting. That is too much even for they who claim they have been socially discriminated against. There’s no excuse for any of it. Thing is the perps were hooligans doing things to people directly just because they could get away with it due to the utter absence of law enforcement. I hope they burn for that. The molly codling ways of the govt there has turned these people into spoilt sniveling brats who think they are entitled to satisfaction.

rOs's avatar

^^ “I hope they burn for that. The molly codling ways of the govt there has turned these people into spoilt sniveling brats who think they are entitled to satisfaction.”

@woodcutter I respect your conviction, but don’t be so quick to don that powdered wig and slam your gavel. 10 minutes looking on the internet will show you that there are guilty parties in the youth and in the government. Here is another quote for you, and a word of caution for everyone as we navigate this slippery social terrain-

“If you’re not careful the newspapers will have you hating the oppressed and loving the people doing the oppressing.” ~ Malcolm X

woodcutter's avatar

@rOs When someone forces people that have done then no harm to strip and be robbed just because they are pissed at some govt officials is no less wrong. I can’t subscribe to the two wrongs make a right excuse. It’s a stretch in this situation anyhow. If you have a beef with the people in charge take it out on them if you got the balls, but leave the people alone. Hurting defenseless individuals is no way to help their cause. Put them in the bad boy prison and see if they like having their clothes removed.

rOs's avatar

@woodcutter I can’t and won’t argue that point. Many of the rioters have acted barbarically, but there are innocent people, who share the same cause (and have gone about it peacefully), that aren’t getting proper media attention due to huge amounts of misleading rhetoric. This original, peaceful cause should not be lost in hate speech.

woodcutter's avatar

Hate speech? Are you kidding? When they try to burn London down hate speech gets lost in the shuffle don’t you think?

rOs's avatar

Angry lectures from red-faced MPs and detached media isn’t going to quell any rebellion, that I’m sure of. If our goal is to further widen the gap between the real world and the angry youth, then I suggest everyone continue to berate them.

mattbrowne's avatar

Not too severe. It’s not just about taking a £3.50 case of water. It’s about about supporting and being part of a mob riot damaging entire buildings, stores and other private property. Any kid with a normal upbringing would stay away from this kind of extreme behavior.

We still need to discuss the root causes. Kids who have nothing to lose and who feel they are not needed in a society will at some point release their bottled-up anger. A country or city which is willing to spend millions on Olympic games while considering large cuts for social workers employment a good idea has got their priorities wrong in my opinion.

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