Last summer’s riots were unprecedented in scale, disorder and violence. The cause was mindless, reckless vandalism and the effect must be serious, effective sentencing. Gordon Thompson, sentenced yesterday, committed a crime that destroyed the livelihood of a longstanding company and endangered lives. As a standalone crime this merits a long custodial sentence and, as a crime committed with seemingly no other motive than sheer vandalism, the sentence was entirely appropriate. For crimes committed during riots, context must be taken into consideration during sentencing. These circumstances necessitate different punishments than may be given to the same crime on another day. Sentences that properly punish those involved, and deter people from acting like this again, are not vindictive, but vindication for the hundreds of innocent people affected in Croydon and beyond.
Richard Harrington is Conservative MP for Watford.
Sentencing after last year’s London riots was ramped up amid a rush to justice. Many young people had not committed a violent offence, had never been in trouble with the law before and were still sent to prison. A student with no criminal record was jailed for six months for stealing £3.50 worth of water. A mother of two, who didn’t participate in the riots but was handed one pair of stolen shorts afterwards, was given a five month prison sentence. The courts placed great store on the deterrent effect of such sentences but crime is seldom the product of a rational choice. The fear of getting caught is more likely to deter than the length of the sentence. For those convicted and sent to prison, spells inside increase the likelihood of reoffending. Disproportionate sentences may simply fuel a sense of injustice and will not tackle the underlying causes of last year’s riots.
Andrew Neilson is director of campaigns at the Howard League for Penal Reform.