Rioter's sentence reduced after appeal

The detention of a 17-year-old rioting drama student was upheld today by an appeal judge but his sentence was halved.

Joshua Penney was swept along by "mob mentality" as he joined others in entering a Sainsbury's store which had been smashed open by looters on the night of the widespread disorder in Manchester city centre on August 9.

As staff cowered in a locked back room, the defendant joined others who helped themselves to cigarettes and alcohol.

Penney, of Chorlton, was immediately followed into the Bridge Street store by police officers who caught him with a bottle of alcohol in his hands. He put the drink down and allowed himself to be arrested.

He pleaded guilty to burglary on his first appearance at youth court in the city and was later sentenced by magistrates to an eight-month detention and training order - of which half he would serve in a young offenders' institution.

Today in an appeal at Manchester Crown Court his legal team argued that sentence was excessive and should have been dealt with by a community penalty in the form of a youth referral order in which no time would have been served in custody.

Judge Michael Henshell, sitting with two magistrates, rejected that argument but ruled the length of the detention and training order was "too long" and halved it to four months.

Penney, who has no previous convictions, has already served six weeks in custody and now faces only two weeks more in detention.

Judge Henshell said it was a "significant fact" that many of those who had come before the courts for offences committed in the widespread disorder had either no previous or comparatively minor convictions.

"That seems to demonstrate with striking clarity the division between people who are sensible, law abiding and do not go through life committing offences and in a manner of a very short time because of mob mentality in the city centre at this time those who were drawn into offences such as this," he said.

The judge said Penney was a young man who had a difficult start in life and had done well since, but was "dragged into these offences by the mentality of the mob around him".

He had been in the company of an older "more sophisticated" man with 15 previous convictions who was also arrested in the store.

Judge Henshell said: "These offences were serious offences. The offences committed of this sort are out of the ordinary. They are outside the normal guidelines of the offences of this kind. They have to be considered in this way.

"We are satisfied this case does cross the custody threshold. This is not a case that should have been dealt with by way of a referral order but we are of the view that the order was too long. We are satisfied the sentence should have been four months of detention and training."

Helen Richardson, defending, said her client had been studying on a performing arts course at a local community college at the time of the offence.

She said he was understood to be a "gifted young man" and that his headteacher had spoken of him as "polite, respectful, conscientious" and "an absolute pleasure".

The headteacher said that everyone was shocked to hear of his arrest, Miss Richardson added.

Penney had found himself in an situation he was unfamiliar with and was swept along with the crowd, she said.

It was "a moment of complete loss ... of self control", she said.

He was assessed as being a medium risk in terms of vulnerability when he entered custody but is now suffering from "extreme anxiety" and struggling to sleep, the court heard.

She said: "He is having to see a counsellor in the young offenders institute on a weekly basis.

"His headteacher has been to see him and she is extremely worried about his mental health, and I ask that to play a part as to whether the appropriate sentence was a referral order or a detention and training order."

Reporting restrictions were lifted on naming Penney at the original magistrates' court hearing.

Four other defendants, one aged 15, two aged 17 and one now 18, were also scheduled to appeal against their sentences today but opted to deal with the cases next Thursday, following next week's expected judgment by the Court of Appeal on 10 other cases involving adult defendants jailed for committing crimes during August's civil disorder across the country.

Among those listed for appeal in London is that of Michael Gillespie-Doyle, 19, from Openshaw, who was the older man with Penney when he too committed burglary at the Sainsbury's store.

He was sentenced at Manchester Crown Court to two years in a young offenders' institution.