Gilmour son jailed over rampage

By Jerome Taylor
Sunday 23 October 2011 04:09

The son of Pink Floyd rock star David Gilmour gave a final defiant wave to the press gallery today as he was led away to start a lengthy prison sentence for a drink and drug fuelled rampage during last year's tuition fees protests.

Charlie Gilmour, who was famously photographed hanging from the Cenotaph during the 9 December protests, was given a 16-month sentence for two counts of violent disorder at Kingston Crown Court.

His mother, the author Polly Samson, fought back tears as Judge Nicholas Pierce QC handed down the sentence which was criticised by protests groups as being disproportionately harsh.

The court heard how Gilmour, a promising 21-year-old Cambridge university student, had taken a mixture of whiskey, valium and LSD on the day of the protests. That evening he was part of a 100-strong mob that attacked a royal convoy carrying the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cambridge and later smashed the window of a nearby Top Shop store.

As Judge Nicholas Price QC handed down his sentence, Gilmour, dressed in a black suit and white shirt, shuffled from side to side and muttered to himself. His only sign of emotion came as he was lead away by a court officer. Before the door to the dock closed he turned around and gave a single wave.

The promising student had already pleaded guilty to a non-specific charge of violent disorder in May but had been allowed time to finish his second year history exams at Cambridge.

Judge Price made it clear that Gilmour was not being sentenced for swinging from a flag attached to the Cenotpah, an act which caused public outrage but did not constitute either of the two violent disorder charges against him. Instead he was sentenced for throwing a bin at a car carrying royal protection officers and for kicking the window of a nearby Top Shop store.

“I have no doubt you felt strongly about the legislation regarding student fees, but what you did went far, far beyond proper protest,” the judge said. “I have to take into account that you have had many advantages which are denied to most young men who come before this court.”

Whilst recognising that Gilmour had previously apologised for his actions at the Cenotaph, Judge Price nonetheless criticised the student for dishonouring Britain's war dead.

"Such outrageous and deeply offensive behaviour gives a clear indication of how out of control you were that day," he said. "It caused public outrage and understandably so."

In response to those actions the court heard how both Gilmour and his family had been inundated with hate mail through letters and on the internet.

In pleading for leniency Gilmour's defence barrister David Spens QC described how his client had become a regular drug user during the latter half of 2010 after an emotionally scarring meeting with his biological father Heathcote Williams.

The court heard how Mr Williams, a well-known poet and author, has refused to have anything to do with his son both before and after his arrest.

"This young man has had to cope with the pain and considerable emotional upheaval of having a biological father who rejected him for no good reason and has continued to reject him throughout his life,” Mr Spens said. "He's been not only absent but entirely disinterested."

He added: “In his words, he spent most of the week 'tranquillised out of my mind'”.

But the judge decided Gilmour's use of drugs were an aggravating factor rather than a mitigating one and said the nature of the charges demanded “lengthy custody”. With good behaviour Gilmour will serve half the sentence and be let out after eight months on licence.

After sentencing, Gilmour's family embraced each other in tears. They refused to make any further comment to reporters.

But protest groups accused the judiciary of handing down politically motivated “deterrent sentences” which treated violent protesters disproportionately harsh.

Emily Apple, from the police monitoring group Fitwatch, said: “This is nothing short of politically motivated sentencing. You just have to compare the kind of sentences that are given to drunk people who get into fights. People have stabbed their victims in the street and got less than 16 months. These cases have to be challenged and fought.”

Earlier this month York student Francis Fernie was given a 12 month prison sentence for throwing two placards at police during UK Uncut's occupation of Fortnum and Mason in March. Neither of the placards hit anyone, Fernie handed himself in to police and pleaded guilty.

In January Edward Woollard, a student from Southampton who threw a fire extinguisher off the roof of the Conservative party's headquarters, was also handed down a 32 month sentence for violent disorder. At the time Judge Geoffrey Rivlin openly declared that he was punishing Woollard as a warning to others. "If ever a case calls for a deterrent sentence, this is it,” he said. “I wish to stress, however, that this is not a case of making an example of you alone. Anyone who behaves in this way and comes before the courts must expect a long sentence of custody."