Student avoids jail for urinating on war memorial

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A student who pleaded guilty to outraging public decency after he was photographed urinating over a war memorial avoided a jail sentence today.

Philip Laing had been warned he could face a custodial sentence after the picture showed him soaking a poppy wreath following a drinking session in Sheffield city centre.

The 19-year-old, from Macclesfield, Cheshire, admitted the offence when he appeared earlier this month at Sheffield Magistrates' Court.

Today District Judge Anthony Browne ordered Laing to do 250 hours community service.

But the judge told the court that "something does need to be done" about the drinking culture that led to his behaviour.

The District Judge said he had considered jailing Laing but he said he had never seen anyone before him who was more contrite.

Sentencing him Mr Browne said: "I said to you when you last appeared that the image of your urinating over the wreath of poppies at the city war memorial was a truly shocking one.

"That was no understatement.

"There you are, a young man of 19, urinating on the war memorial erected to honour the memory of so many other young men.

"I have no doubt at all, and this is accepted by the prosecution that you did so because of the vast quantity of alcohol that you had consumed.

"There was no other motive whatsoever."

He referred to Laing's evening beginning with him sharing a bottle of whisky with a friend before consuming vast amounts of alcohol at an event organised by the Carnage organisation.

Mr Browne said Laing had told probation officers all the drinks were £1 for the Carnage bar crawl.

He said he understood Laing was so drunk he couldn't remember anything of the evening.

The District Judge said: "Now, let me make this perfectly clear. No one forced you to take all this drink, or forced it down you, or persuaded you to commit a criminal offence. You did that all by yourself and you must take responsibility.

"But all this is set against a backdrop, as your solicitor has said, of a culture of drinking far too much.

"In my view something does need to be done to change this culture.

"What you have done has outraged and offended many and has saddened most.

"I received many letters from members of the public but I am required to decide your sentence on the basis of the facts of the case and principles of law alone.

"I have never seen anyone more contrite for what has happened nor one who regrets more the hurt and distress he has caused.

"You have understandably had the wrath and indignation of the public heaped upon you and your family."

Mr Browne said Laing had already been significantly punished and said Sheffield Hallam University was still to decide on his future.

Laing sat by himself in the glass-fronted dock wearing a smart grey suit, pink shirt and a blue-and-red striped military style tie.

He bowed his head for most of the hearing as his parents sat just a few feet away behind his solicitor.

The defendant avoided entering and leaving the court by the public entrance as he was allowed to go through a neighbouring police station.

His parents did leave by the public exit and his mother said only: "He's sorry. He's very, very sorry," as she left.

Laing, a sports technology student, pleaded guilty to the offence of outraging public decency at an earlier hearing.

The court heard he was photographed by a freelance photographer working for a national newspaper in Barker's Pool, in the centre of Sheffield.

The snapper had already taken pictures of him collapsed in a nearby supermarket doorway. Laing then got up but fell down again before he got to the war memorial.

The pictures were published in a range of national newspapers and caused widespread revulsion.

Today the court heard Laing later woke up outside his student accommodation covered in felt tip pen marks. He did not know how the marks had got there.

The event in Sheffield on October 11 involved 2,000 students and was one of a series organised around the UK by the Carnage UK organisation.

At the earlier hearing, referring to Carnage UK, the district judge told Laing: "Some might say that somebody should be standing alongside you."

Tim Hughes, defending, told the court of his client's utter remorse.

Mr Hughes said: "Philip Laing has paid an extremely high price for one evening of complete and utter foolishness."

He confirmed his client had no idea where he was when he began urinating.

"He could have been standing in the middle of Hillsborough football ground, frankly," he said.

The solicitor referred to the outpouring of "approbation and revulsion" on social networking sites on the internet.

Mr Hughes said Laing had never been in trouble with the police and was a bright student who had three A-levels and nine GCSEs.

He said: "He's got caught up in a drinking culture that's all too prevalent."

Mr Hughes urged Mr Browne not the send his client to prison saying he was "terrified" of the prospect.

He said jail would be a "brutalising experience" for a young man who would never trouble the courts again.

The solicitor said prison would "utterly destroy what could otherwise be a good, hard-working, tax-paying life."

He added: "In terms of remorse - absolutely, it's from every pore."

Mr Browne also ordered Laing to pay £185 prosecution costs.

A spokeswoman for Sheffield Hallam University said: "The university has already initiated disciplinary proceedings against this student.

"Now that the judicial process has been completed we will arrange a disciplinary hearing to decide appropriate sanctions."