British Conservative prime minister David Cameron made himself judge, jury and Lord High Executioner this week when he pronounced that anyone charged with rioting should be remanded in custody and anyone convicted should expect to go to jail. Hey, who needs courts and laws and trials and all that sort of thing when you've got a right wing loudmouth like Cameron at the helm?
Well, according to a report in The Observer, it appears that Britain's magistrates got Cameron's "off to prison" memo.
Nicholas Robinson, 23, an electrical engineering student with no previous convictions, was jailed for the maximum permitted six months after pleading guilty to stealing bottles of water worth £3.50 from Lidl in Brixton.
...Youssuf Addow, 25, charged with burglary of Phones 4 U in Putney, south-west London, carrying "a mallet, a weight and umbrellas". Peter Morgan, 20, accused of stealing "four cans of spray paint, to the value of £28.92" from B&Q in Hornchurch, Essex. Kaine Thorpe, 24, appearing on a charge of handling stolen goods, "namely Footlocker trainers and a mobile phone".
Again and again, the judges repeated the refrain "jurisdiction is declined". They considered the maximum powers of sentencing available to magistrates – six months in prison, or a £5,000 fine – to be insufficient, and so referred the case to the crown courts, where the cases will be heard before a jury. Very few of the accused were granted bail. At least one solicitor outside court six expressed concern at some of the courts' decisions, on a day when David Cameron had vowed that anyone charged with rioting should be remanded in custody and anyone convicted should expect to go to jail.
Rajinder Claire, who was representing several alleged rioters, said defendants who would normally be released on bail were being routinely remanded in custody. "The decisions seem to be being taken in a routine manner without enough consideration for the distinct factors of each case," he told reporters, "It certainly seems to me that it is being motivated by political pressure."
...The mother of one convicted looter told the Guardian her son – who got 16 weeks for using "threatening or abusive language or behaviour" – had got a much harsher sentence because of the political climate. "If this wasn't the riot he wouldn't even have got a caution," she said. "It's all because of the riots."
Her son Ricky Gemmell had finished his shift at a Manchester call centre on Tuesday evening and gone home to change out of his suit before heading to the city centre; his family say to visit his girlfriend, with no intention of getting involved in trouble. He pleaded guilty, however, to telling officers during the riot: "I'd smash you if you took your uniform off" before being pinned to the ground and arrested.
Six months in prison for filching a few bottles of water? Four months for mouthing off to cops? David Cameron may be denying there was anything political to the rioting but he's sure as hell seen to it that there's everything political to the judicial aftermath. And he thinks this is going to quell youth unrest in Britain? Apparently the Brits have no shortage of "morans" of their own.
Unfortunately, there are a lot more stories like these to come. And a lot more despicable editorials from conservative publications, too.
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