Jail for millionaire's daughter who drove looters on 'crime spree'
Friday 25 May 2012
A millionaire's daughter was jailed for two years today for driving looters on a late-night crime spree at the height of last summer's riots.
University-educated Laura Johnson, 20, chauffeured the group through London on August 8 in her black Smart car.
As they cruised around the capital, her passengers leapt from the car clad in hooded tops, bandanas and balaclavas to loot.
Today at Inner London Crown Court, the University of Exeter undergraduate, from Orpington, Kent, was jailed for two years for one count of burglary and two years for one of handling stolen goods, to run concurrently.
Johnson and accomplice Christopher Edwards, 17, were both convicted of burgling a Comet store at the Greenwich Retail Park and stealing electrical goods between August 7 and 10 as rioters brought chaos to the capital.
They were also convicted of handling stolen goods following a trial in April.
Edwards can be named today after a ban prohibiting the publication of his name was lifted.
The teenager had previously admitted burglary by stealing alcohol and cigarettes from a BP garage in Charlton.
Edwards was today told he would serve 12 months at a young offenders institution.
The court heard that Johnson set out early on the evening of August 8 to deliver a phone charger to her friend Emmanuel Okubote, 20, a convicted cocaine dealer and thief, known as T-Man.
When they met in Catford, south London, he jumped into the passenger seat while three others climbed into the back.
Johnson told police she was told to drive from one place to another over several hours as violence spread across the city.
When she stopped, her passengers - most of whom she claimed to have never met before - looted and robbed people, including fellow looters, at knifepoint.
Johnson - who is reading English and Italian at university - is a former grammar school pupil who reportedly achieved four A*s and nine As at GCSE.
She is the daughter of Robert and Lindsay Johnson who own direct marketing business Avongate Ltd.
The couple sat at the back of the court today as Martin McCartney, mitigating, described how their daughter led a "privileged life with a caring family".
He said that on the night in question Johnson, who he described as a "bright, intelligent and articulate" young woman, acted in a "moment of madness".
He said: "At the time of the offence, placing what she did against the background of who she is, this was completely out of character.
"It is not beyond the realms of reason that the way she acted might have been affected by the emotional turmoil she was in."
The court was told that Johnson's mother wrote a "heartfelt" letter to the judge, describing Johnson's "self destructive behaviour" at the time.
During the trial, jurors were told that she had previously tried to kill herself while struggling with mental health issues.
The student broke up with her boyfriend last April triggering depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts.
She told the court that almost a month before the riots she was raped by two men at a boy's house but she did not tell anyone at first.
Sentencing, Judge Patricia Lees said: "Your actions added to the overall lawlessness that threatened to overwhelm the forces of law and order.
"You both come from loving and supportive homes, of neither of you it could be said that your parents have not provided every advantage they could for you.
"You both revealed your weaker side to your characters in taking advantage of an escalating situation because you thought you could get away with it and would not be caught.
"It is clear that these offences were committed as part of one of the most serious criminal enterprises which occurred during the civil disturbances."
Turning to Johnson, she said: "You were pivotal to this planned criminal enterprise, you provided and drove the car which carried the others to and from the premises which they burgled and outside of which they robbed others of goods stolen only moments before.
"You went out willingly that night knowing what you were about to get involved in and I have no doubt on everything I have heard about your behaviour last summer, excited by what you perceived to be the thrill of Emmanuel Okubote's world."
A University of Exeter spokeswoman said: "The University of Exeter is aware of the sentence that has been given to Laura Johnson. We will now consider the outcome in order to determine the best way forward with regards Laura's studies at the university."
Johnson could be released in just seven months.
She was told that she will only serve half of her sentence and that 144 days - almost five months - of tagged curfew will be deducted from her sentence.
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