Magistrates toughen up after police and MPs attack leniency sentencing

Magistrates appeared to be taking a stricter stance when sentencing rioters yesterday, following pressure from police chiefs and politicians who accused them of having been too lenient.

Almost all the defendants who faced charges at courts across England were told they would remain behind bars until their next appearance, in some cases at crown court.

It was in contrast to a day earlier where magistrates tended to bail all but the most serious offenders, handing out home curfews and electronic tags rather than further time in prison.

At Camberwell Green magistrates' court yesterday, a college student, who had no previous convictions, was jailed for six months for stealing a £3.50 case of bottled water. Nicolas Robinson, 23, of Borough, south-east London, stole the goods as he passed a Lidl supermarket in Brixton on Sunday night. He threw away the water when he saw police but was arrested and admitted the theft.

District Judge Alan Baldwin told him: "The burglary of commercial premises in circumstances such as this where substantial and wholesale public disorder has taken place is in effect what is commonly called looting."

District Judge Alan Berg launched an extraordinary attack on one defendant in Manchester magistrates' court.

He told the rioter: "People like you, who have all the benefits of this country which others, in other countries, would pray for – you bring shame and disgrace upon the country as a whole, and upon yourselves and your families. You do nothing constructive, all you do is destructive."

David Cameron told MPs in a statement that anyone charged with violent offences should not be bailed back on to the streets. He added that Parliament would act if courts needed new sentencing powers. The Metropolitan Police Assistant Commissioner Stephen Kavanagh had earlier said he and other senior officers were "disappointed" by sentences given to rioters, which they felt were too lenient.

Despite fears that keeping so many accused rioters behind bars would put undue strain on police cells, the Ministry of Justice insisted it had enough places for those held. By last night, 1,009 people had been arrested and 464 charged over the London riots, with more expected throughout the night and into today. Yesterday, only a handful were bailed. They included an unemployed chef, David O'Neill, who was charged with affray and racially aggravated abuse during riots in Sutton, Surrey, on Wednesday. But the 22-year-old, who the court heard was due to meet representatives from the Prince's Trust in his bid to win a grant to open a restaurant, claimed he needed to return to his council flat to fix his broken fridge for fear he would be evicted.

Meanwhile, the two people arrested in connection with the arson attack in on Reeves Furniture store in Croydon have been released. Police arrested a 15-year-old boy and a 25-year-old man last night on suspicion of arson with intent to endanger life. The teenager has been released on bail to a date to be fixed and the 25-year-old released with no further action being taken.

Another teenager to walk free from court was an 18-year-old Hackney student, David Attoh. He was caught on Monday with two Burberry T-shirts and admitted theft by finding, and was released with a £150 fine. A magistrate at Highbury Corner told him: "You have a bright future ahead of you, if you get into trouble again you are going to jeopardise that future."

David Walcott, 21, from Upper Norwood, south London, was alleged to have been among 150 youths seen hurling petrol bombs, fire extinguishers and stones at police during the riots in West Croydon on Monday night despite already being on bail for arson over a separate incident. He denied a charge of violent disorder and was remanded in custody until September.


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