Two men have each been jailed for four years for setting up Facebook pages encouraging people to riot – even though the riots never took place.
The sentences are some of the stiffest handed down by the courts since last week's widespread disturbances and signal how determined the judiciary is to punish anyone caught using social media to spread looting or violence.
Jordan Blackshaw, 20, from Marston near Northwich, and Perry Sutcliffe-Keenan, 22, from Warrington, appeared at Chester crown court yesterday and both admitted inciting violent disorder. The court heard how Blackshaw was the only person who turned up to his own riot and was promptly arrested, while Sutcliffe-Keenan's riot page was up for only a few hours before he took it down.
Blackshaw labelled his Facebook group "Smash dwn [sic] in Northwich Town" and called on his friends to meet behind McDonald's in the town centre on Tuesday 9 August for "lootin". The police had already infiltrated his group and, according to prosecutor Martin McRobb, only nine of his 147 friends bothered to reply to his call to arms.
Sutcliffe-Keenan, meanwhile, used his Facebook account in the early hours of August 9 to design a web page entitled The Warrington Riots. The page was live for several hours before he took it down. According to prosecutors, 47 people confirmed their attendance on the site before it was shut down. In the end, however, no one turned up.
His barrister, Rebecca Tanner, claimed her client had been drunk when he posted his messages, and when he woke up hungover the next morning quickly realised what he had done.
But Mr McRobb told the court Sutcliffe-Keenan had fully intended to cause mayhem.
Judge Elgan Edwards, QC, the Recorder of Chester, told Blackshaw he had committed an "evil" act and sentenced him to four years in a young offenders' institution.
Sentencing Sutcliffe-Keenan to four years in jail, Judge Edwards said: "You caused a very real panic."
Phil Thompson, Assistant Chief Constable of Cheshire Police, welcomed the sentences but civil liberty groups such as Justice said that some judges were handing down sentences that were out of proportion.
Acting Metropolitan Police Commissioner Tim Godwin yesterday revealed he had discussions with the Government about letting the police disable social networking sites.
Mr Godwin told the Home Affairs Select Committee he wanted to disable Twitter during the height of the riots but was legally unable to do so. "I contemplated seeking the authority to switch it off. We did not request it but it is something we are pursuing as part of our investigative strategy," he said.Reuse content