Facebook riot youth spared custodial sentence
A 16-year-old youth who used a Facebook page to incite others to riot walked free from court today after being shown mercy by magistrates.
Johnny Melfah, who was arrested on August 9 after an anonymous call from a concerned member of the public, was told his postings had fuelled the "self-feeding horror" of last month's disorder.
But magistrates sitting at Worcester Youth Court decided not to impose a custodial sentence, instead ordering the apprentice brick-layer to perform 80 hours of unpaid work and adhere to a three-month curfew.
Passing sentence on Melfah, chairman of the bench Paul Vaughan told the teenager: "I think it bears repeating that the case we have been hearing today is set against the background of some of the worst civil disorder we have experienced in a lifetime.
"For people of my generation, the whole thing unfolding on television and on the internet was terrifying and quite terrible."
Although Melfah pleaded guilty at a previous hearing to encouraging others to commit offences, magistrates heard there was no evidence that his actions led directly to any riot-related offences.
Mr Vaughan said the bench accepted Melfah had been swept along by others and had not intended to start a riot, but urged him to "understand the perils" of making statements and suggestions on sites such as Facebook and Twitter.
Imposing a 12-month youth rehabilitation order on Melfah, Mr Vaughan added: "Your postings on Facebook amounted to an incitement.
"We believe that they served to help to fuel a self-feeding horror."
Melfah, who offered his personal apologies to the court, was located by police near Worcester bus station shortly before 10pm on August 9 after making several entries to a Facebook page set up to encourage disorder in the city and the nearby towns of Droitwich and Kidderminster.
Melfah, of Thames Drive, Droitwich, was found to have made several postings on the site, including one stating: "Anyone wanna start some riots in wusta?"
In another posting on the site, which attracted 44 members, Melfah wrote: "Anyone down for Brum tomorrow? Free iPads available."
Another message posted by the defendant read: "Wona go tumora to get inside Bullring! Apple store!!"
Defence solicitor Sam Lamsdale, offering mitigation before sentence, pointed out that there had been a large amount of Facebook activity among Melfah and his peers on the day in question.
It was not suggested that the Facebook comments had had any direct impact on the actions of others, said Miss Lamsdale.
The lawyer added: "He got caught up in the moment and very foolishly joined in those comments.
"He did not attend any public place or cause any damage himself or commit any theft himself.
"I hope that you can accept that this is a young boy foolishly joining in with a conversation on Facebook."
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