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UK riots: magistrates told ‘ignore the rule book’ and lock up looters
Magistrates have been told that they can ignore sentencing guidelines and hand down more draconian penalties to rioters and looters.
Courts are being advised that the scale of last week’s civil disobedience means that offences committed during the riots should be dealt with more harshly.
The memo, sent late last week by the capital’s most senior justice clerks, led one magistrate to warn that any offenders involved in the “anarchy” can expect a prison sentence.
Magistrates appear to have heeded the message, as figures released by the Ministry of Justice last night disclosed that two in three people charged in connection with the riots and looting have been remanded in custody.
In other developments:
* Theresa May, the Home Secretary, will today indicate that thousands more officers will be trained as riot police, but will deepen the row with chief constables by insisting that controversial reforms will go ahead.
* An official investigation into the causes of the riots will be announced by Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister, but he will stop short of a full public inquiry.
* David Cameron yesterday pledged to turn around the lives of 120,000 dysfunctional families, despite criticism from Ed Miliband, the Labour leader, that he was resorting to “gimmicks”.
* Downing Street conceded that Bill Bratton, the former New York and Los Angeles police commissioner, is unlikely to become the next head of the Metropolitan Police.
* Scotland Yard last night released CCTV footage showing two police officers being run over as they were chased by rioters. Both were taken to hospital.
Details of the memo to the courts emerged yesterday as Daniel Anderson, a 25-year-old father of three from Croydon, was jailed for six months after admitting handling stolen goods. Anderson was found with two new guitars, an amplifier and a flat-screen television.
Novello Noades, chairman of the bench at Camberwell Green magistrates’ court in south London, said: “What was happening on our streets last week was anarchy. The very fabric of society was at risk. Anyone with any involvement must be dealt with as severely as we possibly can. Only custody is appropriate.”
The magistrate added: “Our directive for anything involved in rioting is a custodial sentence. So the question is whether our powers are sufficient or not. It is a very, very serious matter.”
The guidance for tougher penalties was issued amid growing concerns that courts were being soft on offenders. Looters and rioters walked free last week in a series of cases, including David Atoh, 18, who admitted stealing two designer T-shirts in Hackney, east London.
A magistrate told him the two days he spent in a cell awaiting his hearing was adequate punishment and freed him. Despite Mr Cameron’s pledge that young offenders would face punishment, a string of juvenile criminals were allowed to return home to their parents.
They included a 12-year-old boy who admitted stealing a £7.49 bottle of wine from a Sainsbury’s in Manchester and was given a nine-month referral order.
The boy appeared ashamed of his actions, but after the hearing he and his mother swore at reporters. In Nottingham, an 11–year–old girl, who left primary school last month, smirked and refused to apologise when put before a judge.
Senior justice clerks in London subsequently told judges that they could overlook sentencing guidelines to take into account the “exceptional” level of the disorder. It is likely to mean that more offenders are being passed up to the Crown Court as judges there can hand out longer terms.
James Clappison, a Conservative member of the Commons Home Affairs Committee, called for magistrates elsewhere to be given similar instructions.
“The courts need to recognise the breakdown of law and order that took place,” he said. “We need to see tougher sentencing to deter future offending. The sad fact is that many people must be sent to jail.”
The Ministry of Justice last night disclosed that 65 per cent of people charged in connection with the riots and looting have been remanded in custody, compared with 10 per cent for serious offences last year. A total of 1,179 people have appeared in court on charges relating to the riots.
Magistrates retain the right to ignore advice from clerks and a Judicial Office spokesman said there had been no separate directive on sentencing from the senior judiciary.
An HM Courts Service spokesman said: “Magistrates in London are being advised by their legal advisers to consider whether their powers of punishment are sufficient in dealing with some cases arising from the recent disorder.”