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Prison population peaks as courts rush to punish rioters

The prison population reached a record high yesterday lunchtime, with judges showed no sign of weakening as they continued to dole out stricter sentences to rioters, looters and arsonists involved in the unrest that blighted England this week.

The courts rushed through hundreds of cases in emergency all-night sittings that saw most defendants either jailed or their cases referred to the Crown Court, unlike earlier in the week, when a majority were bailed.

Renaldo Tekle Giorgies, 18, who has a 10-day old daughter, was sentenced to four months in youth custody for telling three off-duty police officers they were "going to get shot" during riots in Enfield on Monday night.

He also made a gun motion with his hand before threateningly reading out the number plate of the marked car, which contained mostly female officers, to friends sitting nearby, City of Westminster magistrates' court heard.

In the same court, a judge attacked parents for not attending court while their children stood in the dock. Judge Elizabeth Roscoe told a 14-year-old defendant, accused of stealing clothes, CDs and perfume during the riots last weekend, that she was lucky her mother was coming to collect her as most "don't seem to care".

Later a man appeared accused of going equipped to steal just after the riots – he was found with a balaclava, rubber gloves and swimming goggles. Levent Mustafa, 22, who wore a Superman T-shirt in the dock, said that the items were to keep his face warm, and that he liked wearing masks.

In Manchester, a 13-year-old boy was given a nine-month referral order after he was arrested with a hammer strapped to his leg.

The total number of prisoners hit 85,931 yesterday, with many more suspected rioters still awaiting trial. There are 2,000 prison places left, Ministry of Justice figures showed. The Government insisted that there will be enough cells for anyone sentenced to custody – no matter how many more are arrested.

At police force nerve centres across the country, detectives continued to trawl painstakingly through days of CCTV footage in a bid to close the net on the thousands of culprits who are yet to face justice.

They are employing facial recognition technology planned for use in the Olympics, which uses the human face like a grid, measuring the distance between a person's nose, eyes, lips and other features.

"You have to have a good picture of a suspect and it is only useful if you have something to match it against," a source told the Associated Press. "In other words, the suspect already has to have a previous criminal record."

Many of the defendants that flowed through the courts yesterday indeed had criminal records.