All night they came, dazed and confused, to face justice

Looting accused have their night in court

Westminster magistrates' court

One o'clock in the morning: an 18-year-old girl in a tight T-shirt and jeans sits listening, or maybe not, as a string of accusations is read out: that she attacked shops, forced entry, hurled concrete masonry first at police – who fled – and then at their £60,000 patrol car, causing £5,000 damage. Good-quality CCTV pictures apparently show her in a street in Enfield, north London, around 6pm on Sunday. She is, so the prosecution lawyer says, with a predominantly male group of about 50 masked individuals who are behaving with extreme violence. She is said to have been identified by her distinctive appearance and, it emerges, because her estranged mother was watching TV and phoned the police. The girl rises to give her name, address (none) and date of birth, then she sits back down, appearing listless, bored and petulant by turns as proceedings motor on. Hers is just one case, among 60, to be heard at a special all-night sitting of Westminster magistrates' court – sittings replicated around the country to deal with this week's looters, arsonists and muggers.

She faces charges including violence, theft of telephone equipment and criminal damage. Almost in a whisper, she pleads not guilty. Her lawyer puts the case for bail, saying that since she broke with her mother at 16 and then with her stepmother, she had been staying at a friend's flat in a nearby tower block. She is refused bail and told to appear at Highbury Corner on 17 August, pending referral to the crown court.

The defence lawyer mentions her sporting expertise, which included playing football "to a respectable level". In fact, the prosecution noted, she had been invited to a reception in the House of Commons – a five-minute walk from the court – to celebrate the success of a community sports programme two years before.

The teenager was preceded in the dock by a tall, stooped black man, with a beard, who shambled in, in a fresh white T-shirt, to answer charges of attempted burglary, burglary and handling stolen goods, relating to the disturbances in east London. There was mention of mental health issues. At times bewildered, and waiting on the nod from his lawyer, he pleaded guilty, before being remanded to a crown court. The accused was led out.

Between 12.15am and 2.30am, just four cases were heard. In one, there was a homeless man under treatment for serious illness, who was accused of looting an east London off-licence, where a mob removed £10,000 of stock in five minutes. In another, a well-built man in his 20s was accused of stealing £40,000 worth of electrical goods.

All in their separate ways, seemed to personify strands of disadvantage; family, social or health dysfunction. These were not the budding professionals jeopardising their life chances. They were already scarred individuals, many had previous convictions, and it was hard to see how their problems could ever be remedied by any means short of one-to-one nurturing, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

Two guilty pleas brought remands to crown courts – because the magistrates did not have the power to impose penalties deemed severe enough. "These are very serious offences," the magistrate repeatedly intoned. The two pleading not guilty were remanded to appear at another magistrates' court in a week's time. Very few got bail, not even – later in the night – a woman with a baby of just six weeks.

Relatives, friends, lawyers, court officials, reporters and a very few curious members of the public milled around the court building, betraying increasing tiredness and frustration. People kipped down in the corridors and on the stairs. Among the lawyers and the court officials, though, fatigue was spiked with a strange sense of purpose.

I visited this building a few months before, and found everyone from security to administrative staff universally sullen and obstructive. Now, at dead of night, Westminster magistrates' court was a buzz of activity. And, while not exactly welcoming, police and court officials seemed to want to show that justice could not only be done competently in the nocturnal hours, but it could also be seen to be done.

The defendants...

The ballerina

The 17-year-old girl from Croydon, who cannot be named for legal reasons, handed herself in to police after spotting her picture in a newspaper appeal.

Westminster magistrates' court heard how she was among 30 or 40 young people who stormed into the Richer Sounds store during the riots in Croydon on Monday night.

She was captured on CCTV entering the store before emerging with a large-screen television. She later returned to claim a second television. In total, the store said it lost £190,000 of equipment.

The court heard how the girl, who appeared in the dock with her dyed blonde hair in braids and spoke softly only to confirm her name and age, had studied ballet since the age of seven and had secured a place at a dance academy. Her lawyer said she hoped to become a dancer and dance teacher. The court heard that, despite a search of her home, the televisions were not recovered. She pleaded guilty to burglary and was remanded in custody until her appearance at a crown court.

The journalism student

Ahmed Farah, 27, a journalism and history student from Hackney, east London, was arrested on Lower Clapton Road, Hackney, carrying a kitchen knife. The student, who studies at East London University, told police he had been returning from his uncle's restaurant where he works as a chef.

He pleaded guilty to possession of a knife blade, but the magistrate denied his application for bail. He was remanded in custody until his appearance at crown court later this month.

The would-be sportswoman

Chelsea Ives, 18, was arrested after her mother spotted her on television and called police.

She was filmed by the BBC throwing bricks at a £60,000 police car during the violence in Enfield on Sunday night.

She was also charged with breaking into the mobile phone shops Fones 4 U and Vodafone and stealing equipment.

"She was first to pick up masonry and hurl it at the window," said Becky Owens, for the prosecution.

Westminster magistrates' court heard that Ms Ives said after the alleged rampage that she had "the best day ever".

Ms Ives denied two counts of burglary, violent disorder and attacking a police car. She was described by her solicitor as a "talented sportswoman".

She was remanded in custody until a date in August.

The estate agent, trainee accountant and engineering student

Saffron Armstrong, 22, an accountancy and finance student, Kairo Lawson, 22, a second-year civil engineering student, and Gassam Ojjeh, 22, an estate agent, all from Mitcham, Surrey, were allegedly caught inside a burnt-out PC World store in Colliers Wood when police dogs entered the shop.

The defendants were found in the store on Wednesday, 24 hours after it had been raided by looters during the riots, the court heard. Lisa Brown, for the prosecution, said they had been discovered at around 10.40pm on Monday.

"Clearly these riots were some of the worst that took place," she said. "Substantial damage had been caused and properties had been looted. These offences took place against that backdrop."

The court heard how Armstrong told police when they approached him that he was a freelance journalist assessing the damage. Lawson was said to have resisted arrest. His mother, who was said in court to be terminally ill, was in the packed courtroom to witness his hearing.

Armstrong and Lawson pleaded guilty to burglary with intent to steal, while Mr Ojjeh denied the charges. All three were remanded in custody.

The aspiring youth worker

Natasha Reid, 24, from Edmonton, north London, pleaded guilty to theft and entering with intent to steal, at City of Westminster magistrates' court .

The court heard how she had been on her way to McDonald's in Enfield when she noticed a Comet store had been broken into, where she stole a £300 JVC television. Her lawyer said she handed herself in because she could not sleep with the guilt.

The youth worker

Samir Shah, from St John's Wood, north London, was allegedly among 16 young men who ran up Lodge Road in St John's Wood, trashing a string of cafes and restaurants and threatening customers just after midnight on Wednesday.

Becky Owen, for the prosecution, told Westminster magistrates that the group "ransacked properties and terrorised customers" in the area. Police used CS spray to subdue Mr Shah before his arrest, the court heard. It heard how Mr Shah had worked as a peer mentor at a school in Westminster and had taken part in youth events about gun and youth crime. He also coached football and had an offer to start university in September.

He denied violent disorder and was remanded in custody.

The law student

Marouane Rouhi, 21, a second-year law student from St John's Wood, was allegedly among the same group of youths that were rounded up by police after running rampage along Lodge Road. The court heard he was arrested at Taser point. He claimed he was travelling to the local mosque and had nothing to do with the rampage.

He denied violent disorder and was remanded in custody.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
Attenborough with the primates
tvWhy BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
News
Campbell: ‘Sometimes you have to be economical with the truth’
newsFormer spin doctor says MPs should study tactics of leading sports figures like José Mourinho
Sport
football
Life and Style
Agretti is often compared to its relative, samphire, though is closer in taste to spinach
food + drink
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
News
Kelly Osbourne will play a flight attendant in Sharknado 2
people
News
Down-to-earth: Winstone isn't one for considering his 'legacy'
people
News
The dress can be seen in different colours
i100
Sport
Wes Brown is sent-off
football
Voices
Lance Corporal Joshua Leakey VC
voicesBeware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
Life and Style
Alexander McQueen's AW 2009/10 collection during Paris Fashion Week
fashionMeet the collaborators who helped create the late designer’s notorious spectacles
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003
Barbara Woodward: Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with the growing economic superpower

Our woman in Beijing builds a new relationship

Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with growing economic power
Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer. But the only British soldier to be awarded the Victoria Cross in Afghanistan has both

Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer

Beware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
Alexander McQueen: The catwalk was a stage for the designer's astonishing and troubling vision

Alexander McQueen's astonishing vision

Ahead of a major retrospective, Alexander Fury talks to the collaborators who helped create the late designer's notorious spectacle
New BBC series savours half a century of food in Britain, from Vesta curries to nouvelle cuisine

Dinner through the decades

A new BBC series challenged Brandon Robshaw and his family to eat their way from the 1950s to the 1990s
Philippa Perry interview: The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course

Philippa Perry interview

The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef recreates the exoticism of the Indonesian stir-fry

Bill Granger's Indonesian stir-fry recipes

Our chef was inspired by the south-east Asian cuisine he encountered as a teenager
Chelsea vs Tottenham: Harry Kane was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope

Harry Kane interview

The striker was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope
The Last Word: For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?

Michael Calvin's Last Word

For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?
HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?