Riot burglars face longer jail sentences

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The Independent Online

Criminals who burgle shops or homes during any future riots will face longer behind bars under new sentencing guidelines for judges unveiled today.







The Sentencing Council, which aims to promote greater consistency among judges in England and Wales, said the guidelines were changed after the summer's riots to make the context of general public disorder an aggravating factor in future burglaries.



It comes after the tough sentences handed out over the violence and looting in August prompted concerns that judges were acting outside the established guidelines.



For burglary, the average sentence for those involved in the riots was 14.1 months, compared with an average of 8.8 months last year, the latest Ministry of Justice (MoJ) figures showed.



Under the new guidelines which will apply from January 16, burglars who commit their crimes in the context of future riots will see both the starting point of their sentence and the top of its possible range increase.



Offenders convicted of aggravated burglary with a firearm or other weapon, who would otherwise attract a guideline sentence of up to four years, would face up to nine years in jail if it happened in the context of a riot, the guidelines show.



Those guilty of domestic burglaries, usually attracting sentences of up to 26 weeks in jail, would attract a guideline sentence of up to two years during riots, while the top-of-the-range sentence for non-domestic burglaries would increase from 18 to 51 weeks in jail.



Referring to the riots, a council spokesman said: "The council recognises the damage caused and consequences of such events, especially for small businesses and shop owners living above or near premises, and has therefore included the context of general public disorder as a factor indicating greater harm caused in any burglary offence."



Lord Justice Hughes, the council's deputy chairman, added: "These guidelines reinforce current sentencing practice for the different kinds of burglary.



"Burglary is often not simply a crime against property but may have a serious impact on people whose houses or businesses are invaded. Those who burgle people's houses will normally go to prison."



Other factors, such as any gang membership, the deliberate targeting of victims, or whether an offender was acting on impulse, would also affect judges' sentencing decisions.



Any burglars who have a weapon should always be jailed, the guidelines show, with a maximum of life in prison, compared with a maximum of 14 years for domestic burglars and 10 years for non-domestic burglars.



The new guidelines, which were being developed before the riots and have since been updated, also give more focus on the harm caused to victims of non-domestic burglaries beyond the economic impact, the council said.



Javed Khan, chief executive of Victim Support, said: "Being burgled and having your personal belongings trashed or stolen can have a lasting impact.



"With a quarter of burglary victims losing confidence, a fifth having trouble sleeping and one in 10 suffering from depression, it is only right that the impact is taken into account in sentencing."



Vicki Helyar-Cardwell, director of the Criminal Justice Alliance which represents more than 60 organisations, added: "Clear guidance like this helps to guard against a postcode lottery in sentencing, so that offenders receive sentences that accurately reflect the seriousness of their offence."

PA

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