The Riots one year on:
Deportation looms for the man who stole an ice cream
This time last year, the first of the riots that would engulf England began. Paul Peachey revisits the victims and perpetrators of the violence, and finds a case that highlights the harshness of the treatment some offenders received
Monday 06 August 2012
A looter jailed for 16 months after taking a single lick of an unwanted ice-cream cone stolen from a ransacked shop during last summer's riots is now facing deportation and a 10-year ban from Britain.
Anderson Fernandes, whose case highlighted concerns over harsh sentencing for those convicted of involvement in the riots, has been told that he will be sent back to Portugal where he has no family and spent only a few years as a child.
Fernandes wandered into a ransacked confectioner's in central Manchester in August last year and helped himself to a cone and two scoops of ice cream. He took a lick, did not like the coffee flavour, and handed it to a woman outside the wrecked shop, he said.
He admitted burglary in the days following the riot after police told him that they found his DNA on a cigarette inside the branch of Patisserie Valerie. The prosecution said that at one point he had considered distributing cones to people milling outside of the shop during the disturbances.
The 22-year-old, who had never before been in prison, was jailed for 16 months after district judge Jonathan Taaffe said that he had a "public duty to deal swiftly and harshly with matters of this nature". Fernandes, of Newton Heath, Manchester, said that the deportation order meant that he was being punished twice. "I had never been to prison before. I thought I would get community service or a tag," he said. "It's not like I smashed a shop or broke anything."
He stole the ice cream after leaving court where he faced charges for an unrelated matter. "I walked in because the lights were on and the door was open. I walked in to go and buy something. But once I was inside, I realised there was no-one in the shop so I helped myself to the ice cream machine, got an ice-cream and took it out.
"When I came out, I started it but it was coffee and I was going to throw it away. There was a girl standing by and she said, if you don't like it, give it to me. Then I walked to the bus stop and went home."
Fernandes, a Portuguese national, served his sentence at Strangeways and then at Risley prison in Warrington, where he received notification from the UK Border Agency (UKBA) that it was seeking possible deportation. After serving eight months of his sentence, he was transferred to the Dungavel Immigration Removal Centre in South Lanarkshire, Scotland. He has not seen his Manchester-based family since because of the difficulties of travelling to see him. He said his mother, who gave birth to a daughter just a month before the riots, had been badly affected by what had happened.
Fernandes, who moved to Britain with his family at the age of 13, has been told he will be sent back to Portugal where he lived for a couple of years after leaving Angola where he was born. He is currently appealing the decision. "At first I was shocked because I had never been to prison before and I didn't know the system. It gives you time to reflect and sit down," he said.
His solicitor, Jackie Mason, said he was considered for deportation because he was sentenced to more than a year in prison – a punishment she said was disproportionate to the crime. "He wasn't really involved in terms of organising and rallying," she said. Under the terms of his deportation, he would not be able to return to Britain for 10 years.
A spokesperson for UKBA said: "All foreign nationals receiving a custodial sentence of at least 12 months should be considered for deportation. Each case is looked at on its individual merits."
Previous offences, the severity of the crime and the question of whether they have family in the UK are all taken into consideration before a decision is given to deport.
Senior judges and the Prime Minister David Cameron have all endorsed the handing down of long sentences for those involved in rioting despite criticisms by lawyers and rights groups.
One single mother who was nearly six months pregnant at the time of the riots told The Independent that she was imprisoned after two acquaintances bullied her and a friend into taking stolen goods to leave outside her home.
Dominique Lewis, 23, pleaded guilty to receiving stolen goods and was jailed for two months. "It was crazy," she said of her time in prison. "I was there for no reason. Now I have a criminal record."
Case studies: stories from the riots
The publican: 'Maybe people who rob the country have a better life'
A year on from the riots that saw his pub ransacked, his stock stolen and his livelihood in jeopardy, landlord Niche Mpala Mufwankolo is still waiting for answers and fighting for compensation.
He was at home and alerted to the fighting by live television pictures of the street where he worked. He arrived to find his pub – built with his own hands – ransacked. As he stood in the bar chasing out those already there, others streamed through the broken windows including one with a knife. Mr Mufwankolo, now aged 58, fled to the roof where he watched them wreak havoc through a skylight. He eventually shinned down a drainpipe to safety, leaving behind the pub, the Pride of Tottenham, to the looters.
The signs of damage have largely now gone, though his suffering continues. He is reluctant to divulge the total cost of the damage but it runs into tens of thousands of pounds. Mr Mufwankolo claimed back his losses under the 1886 Riot (Damages) Act but after administrators lost his papers, he was offered only 10 per cent of his claim.
That eventually increased to 30 per cent, which he was reluctantly forced to accept. But he continues to fight his case. "If you're starving somebody for a month and then after a month say: 'I have some nice soft stones for your stomach' and they have a glass of water, then they will take those stones because they want to survive."
Mr Mufwankolo said he had started taking tablets for depression. "I wanted to look after my family. I wanted to do that to feel like a man, a real man who sweats. The sweat is not coming out the way I want, but from the emotion of what has happened.
"Maybe there are people out there doing nothing, robbing the government, who have a better life than the ones who co-operate.
"They say: people be quiet, be calm – in a couple of weeks we are going to sort this situation out. We're like children in front of their parents. Now we are abandoned."
The bystander: 'It's taken away parts of my life'
Fahim Alam spent six weeks on remand in prison and six months on a tag before he finally went on trial. A jury cleared him of violent disorder in 30 minutes.
Mr Alam, an Oxford graduate, says his case highlighted a two-tier system of justice after the violence. While others he came across were represented in overnight courts by overstretched defence teams, he fought the charges with the help of Imran Khan, Doreen Lawrence's solicitor.
Mr Alam was arrested during disturbances in Hackney that he came across while walking home from work. Police moved in after looting started on a side-street and a car was set on fire, leading to more fierce clashes, says Mr Alam, 26. He says he was arrested by six or seven officers as he stood watching the scenes unfold. He spent a day-and-a-half in a police cell before being taken to court then six weeks on remand at Wormwood Scrubs, Pentonville and Wandsworth prisons. "I was watching the news all the time that I was there and people were getting hugely disproportionate sentences. They were giving people custodial sentences at the drop of a hat."
He was bailed and spent six months tagged with a night-time curfew before he went on trial. He believes that his acquittal was an exception to the rule. "The whole experience has changed me as a person. It's given me experiences I can never forget," he says. "It's taken away parts of my life that I can never regain."
The businessman: 'Everything fell apart. I fell apart'
Three months after the rioting that closed down the family motor repair business, Omer Mehmet's heart began racing, he collapsed and was taken to hospital by his son. The family feared a heart attack brought on by stress because they had earned nothing since August 6. "Everything fell apart," says Mr Mehmet, 48. "I fell apart."
Mr Mehmet was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder brought on by the financial burden of paying out bills for a business that could not open. For the next four months he could not leave his house. "Honestly I couldn't understand what was happening," says Mr Mehmet. "I had two thoughts, I was either going to kill myself to get rid of this pain, or go to a mental home."
The Mehmets, a hard-working and tight-knit Turkish Cypriot family, had ploughed everything they had into the Remo Auto Centre, a new motor repair business that was growing strongly until August 6 last year, when the Carpetright building next door was set ablaze.
Damage to the buildings forced Remo's closure and it only re-opened in April. Business failed to pick up and they have been forced to cut their losses and sell. "It was never like this in our worst days," says Mrs Mehmet. "What angers us is that it isn't our own fault."
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