Britain's most senior judge said the lengthy sentences meted out to rioters reflected the "ghastliness" of the unrest that swept through England in August, as he heard the first batch of challenges by defendants jailed for their involvement.
But the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Judge, also questioned the basis on which looters were sentenced, describing "guidelines" issued by a judge who proclaimed rioters should all be jailed as "a recipe for chaos". Sitting at the Court of Appeal in London, he said that, if other courts issued similar guidelines to those of Honorary Recorder of Manchester, Judge Andrew Gilbart QC, mass confusion would result.
"Given the overall ghastliness of what was going on in the country, these sentences had to be significantly higher," he told a packed courtroom. "[But] there might have been three or four such courts issuing such guidelines. That's a recipe for chaos."
The bench heard a range of arguments from 10 convicted rioters attempting to have their sentences reduced. The first cases to be heard involved Jordan Blackshaw, 20, of Northwich, and Perry Sutcliffe-Keenan, 22, of Warrington, both in Cheshire, who were jailed for four years each after they set up Facebook pages inciting riots.
Their lawyers told the bench that what their clients had done was "monumentally foolish", "hugely stupid" and "shortsighted" but argued that their sentences were too long.
Hassan Halloway, 39, from Manchester, was jailed for four years and eight months at Manchester Crown Court after admitting burglary charges and violent disorder. He joined the rampage, throwing a brick at police and looting shops. Dan Gaskell, representing Halloway, said: "The sentence passed is the equivalent of a seven-year sentence at trial."
Enrico Vanasco, a chef who took a £300 camera from Jessops, was jailed for 20 months for burglary. His lawyer, Matthew Stanbury, said the judge had gone "too far". He said his client was due to get married next year and "stands to lose a very great deal as a result of his actions". Lorriane McGrane, 19, from Peckham, south-east London, a Territorial Army soldier, argued against her 13-month jail term for stealing a television from an Argos store in Bermondsey, south London. She stole the set in a "moment of madness", her lawyer, Giles Newell, said. He pointed out that two other defendants, who unlike her had previous convictions, were sentenced on exactly the same night by a different judge and were treated much more leniently.
Hassan Koyuncu, 18, was the only appellant to request a suspended sentence in place of the 12 months in a young offenders' institution originally imposed for his burglary in Tottenham from a Comet store.
His lawyer, Claire Palmer, said: "He regrets going out of the front door. He said he wished he left by the back door." She added that his "moderate" learning difficulties meant he should be treated by the court as a child.
Stephen Craven, 25, from Manchester, was jailed for 12 months after admitting handling stolen goods. He was arrested after buying a TV worth £300 from a group of youths for £20 when he saw them carrying it through the streets. His lawyer argued that his sentence was "manifestly excessive".
David Beswick, 31, a coach driver from Manchester, was jailed for 18 months at Manchester Crown Court for handling stolen goods after being found with a stolen TV in his car.
Richard English, defending, said his client's actions were "spectacularly stupid" but, "having set the bar as high as he did", the recorder of Manchester's sentences were too high.
Stephen Carter, 26, from Salford, was jailed for 16 months after being caught with a bag of stolen clothes and shoes worth £500. Helen Richardson, defending, reminded the court: "The judiciary are not influenced by the press and by public opinion."
The three judges are to view BBC news coverage of the riots before they decide whether any of the sentences handed down were excessive. Their decision is expected next week.Reuse content