Editor-At-Large: British justice should not be about revenge - even against looters

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The images of gangs of hoodies smashing up shops and looting made me feel ashamed of my country, but the testosterone-fuelled response of our leaders was equally cringe making.

Politicians, police and prosecutors have fallen over themselves to demonstrate just how tough they are. Talk about shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted; for well over a decade a growing group of people has not worked, not been educated properly and not integrated into society, but few people in government wanted to deal with this problem as it wasn't a vote-winner.

Now, instead of long-term solutions and support, revenge seems to be the mood. Iain Duncan Smith wants benefits stopped. Theresa May has told prosecutors to name and shame as many people convicted of offences connected to the disorder as possible, presumably to "teach them a lesson". Manchester police erected huge displays of CCTV pictures of looters in public spaces and are asking people to shop anyone they recognise. When anyone accused of social disorder pitches up for a court hearing, they are surrounded by a baying pack of journalists, anxious for quotes from incoherent youths who can barely spell their own names and from mothers who are judged wanting even though they are not in the dock.

We seem to want rough justice for these modern pariahs – summary incarceration, community reparation carried out in fluorescent overalls for easy recognition. This thirst for public humiliation marks a worrying departure from the normal way of administering justice in Britain. Listening to our leaders, you get the impression they would prefer we were back in the Middle Ages, and we could chuck rotten food at criminals in stocks.

Social workers are outraged; the Howard League for Penal Reform says the lifting of anonymity for children will serve as a double punishment, as their names will for ever be in newspapers and the notoriety will cause problems when efforts are made to help them reintegrate into society.

It will also attract vigilantes. Last week a 16-year-old boy became the first juvenile to be named. He admitted inciting a riot on the internet, although he subsequently apologised. I have not written his name because it's pointless. In the circles this kind of youth moves in, getting a name check in the national press makes you a big deal to your pals. How Ms May thought it would lead to any kind of moral rearmament is beyond me.

So far 954 people have appeared in court in London, with 82 convictions and just 42 custodial sentences, but the Met is busily posting photographs of the guilty on Flickr. Why? Surely it has better things to do with its time, not contributing to internet dross.

Meanwhile, social networking sites have refused to comply with the Home Secretary's wish that troublemakers should be banned. Last week an 18-year-old who used Facebook to urge pals to riot in Nottingham was sent to a young offenders' institution for nearly three years – a draconian sentence that is not likely to result in a positive outcome. Now he's going to be locked up with real criminals who commit violent offences, not cyber ones. Well done, everyone.

David Cameron wants rich investors in invest in "social impact bonds" to pay for targeted supervision and support for deeply troubled families. Successful projects will pay a dividend to those who improve their behaviour. It's a straw in the wind. But it's better than naming and shaming.

Women rule the roost at Edinburgh

Two extraordinary women made my trip to Edinburgh worthwhile. As usual, the stand-up comedy on offer is still dominated by men (the most successful of whom are now of a certain age, but still try to appear youthful on their posters), but the hottest ticket was Sarah Millican, whose sell-out shows attract a mainstream crowd.

This Geordie lass is effortlessly hilarious. We worked together on Loose Women earlier this year. She has mastered the art of self-deprecation. She's certain to have her own show on a major channel any day now. Sarah can deliver the F-word like she's dishing out a plate of chips, and her observations about sex are completely filthy.

Diana Quick is a wonderful actress who isn't on television nearly enough. Her performance as a pushy mother desperately trying to contact her daughter by Skype in Midnight Your Time is utterly engrossing. As Adam Brace's play unfolds, we realise that Judy is not what she first appears: a well-meaning member of the middle-class Islington intelligentsia.

It brought back so many memories of the weekly phone "chats" with my own mum, which always ended in tears and recriminations. This deserves a transfer, and can a television producer please find a meaty role for Diana soon?

Royals in the cheap seats

William and Kate might be worth about £450m, but they can't resist a cheap deal. Last week they pitched up at the cinema complex in Llandudno, on Bargain Tuesday, when seats for The Inbetweeners were only £4.90.

My auntie Vi, who lives less than a mile away, is wondering if they popped into Enoch's for fish and chips. If batter is not on Kate's diet, then Vi will be happy to bake some bara brith.

The couple's film taste seems depressingly lowbrow. Last month they hit the same cinema for Bridesmaids. What about supporting British film? Or is working-class misery too depressing?

Real life trumps fiction yet again

Many people's favourite holiday reading was Nordic fiction, headed by Jo Nesbo's stories about the detective Harry Hole of the Oslo police force. I had to stop reading Nesbo's The Snowman because my dreams were so frightening. Nesbo could never have predicted that a shooting atrocity would unfold right on his own doorstep, far more shocking than anything Hole has had to confront.

Last week, the author was in Edinburgh talking about his latest novel, The Leopard. He told an audience that recent events in Norway will have a profound impact on writers. How can they respond to the Breivik shootings? Real life has turned out more shocking than anything they have dreamt up.



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