Millionaire's daughter Laura Johnson convicted over riots looting


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The Independent Online

A millionaire's daughter was warned she could be jailed after being convicted today of driving looters on a late-night crime spree at the height of last summer's riots.

Laura Johnson, 20, chauffeured the group through London on August 8 last year.

As they cruised around the capital, her passengers leapt from the car clad in hooded tops, bandanas and balaclavas to go looting.

The University of Exeter undergraduate, from Orpington, south east London, was convicted today of one count of burglary and one of handling stolen goods.

She was cleared of two other burglary charges and a charge of handling stolen goods by a jury at Inner London Crown Court.

Johnson showed no reaction as the verdicts were delivered.

Judge Patricia Lees told her and a 17-year-old accomplice who cannot be named for legal reasons that they would be sentenced on May 3.

The judge said: "You have both been convicted of serious offences. These are aggravated by the fact that they were conducted in the timeframe of serious civil unrest in London last summer.

"This spree of burglaries and handling stolen goods which you both were willing participants in will attract in my mind the likelihood of an immediate custodial sentence."

Johnson and the 17-year-old were both convicted by the jury of eight men and four women of stealing electrical goods from a Comet store at the Greenwich Retail Park between August 7 and 10 as rioters brought chaos to the capital.

They were cleared of stealing a television from a Currys shop at Stonelake Retail Park in south east London between the same dates.

The teenager had previously admitted burglary by stealing alcohol and cigarettes from a BP garage in Charlton.

Johnson was also convicted of handling stolen goods - a TV looted from Currys - but cleared of a burglary charge involving the theft of cigarettes and drink from the garage. She was also acquitted of handling these items.

Jurors hearing the case were told how 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, otherwise known as T-Man.

When she arrived at their meeting point in Catford, south London, he jumped into the passenger seat while others climbed into the back.

In a statement to police, Johnson told how she was instructed 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 - would embark on a looting mission and robbed people at knifepoint.

Jurors heard how Johnson, who previously tried to kill herself, began a close friendship with Okubote during the summer after being introduced to him by a friend she met while a mental health unit outpatient.

She told the court she was ordered to act as his driver on August 8 and had been too frightened to report the men or flee.

Asked why she had not refused to drive that night, she told police: "I didn't get the impression they were the sort of people you say no to... I suppose there's a fear of them, there's a general knowledge that these are just not the kind of people who you don't go along with, especially when they are sat in your car and have an idea of your family or registration plate."

But the eight men and four women of the jury dismissed her claims.

During her trial, the court heard how she sent a series of flirtatious messages to T-Man in the hours before they set out on their drive through the Catford, Hither Green and Charlton areas of London.

In a string of BlackBerry messages exchanged on August 8, he told Johnson how he was no longer "on tag" and had been "out" a while.

In further dialogue, exchanged at around 2.15pm, the undergraduate wrote: "I'm doing an essay 'nerd' you proud?"

She later added: "It (sic) really hard though... unless it's sex, hahaha, I hate working hard."

He replied: "Don't worry you'll get it."

Johnson was arrested when police stopped her car, hours later.

Another teenager, Alexander Elliott-Joahill, 18, pleaded guilty to burglaries and handling stolen goods in connection with the spree.

Okubote is currently in custody following a recall to prison for possession with intent to supply.

He has not stood trial in connection with this case but it is understood detectives want to speak to him about the events of August 8.

Leaving court, Johnson, supported by her parents Robert and Lindsay, said: "Have a nice Easter."

Mr Johnson said his daughter was considering launching an appeal.