Two men have been jailed for four years for inciting riots on Facebook, the social media site, amid growing signs the judiciary are cracking down on those found guilty of playing a part in last week’s violence.
Jordan Blackshaw, 20, and Perry Sutcliffe-Keenan, 22, both created Facebook pages, one called, “Warrington Riots” and the other called “Smash Dwn in Northwich Town”. Police arrested the pair without any violence having been committed, and Elgan Edwards, a judge sitting at Chester Crown Court, sentenced them immediately, a month earlier than originally planned, after the pair pleaded guilty to encouraging others to commit violent crime.
Police officers had been inundated with calls from the public alerting them to the pages, in which the men gave dates, times and locations where they were calling for violence to occur.
The judge handed down the tough sentences despite hearing the two had previously been of good character. He said he hoped the sentences would provide a deterrent to others, and they were quickly welcomed by Cheshire Police.
Assistant Chief Constable Phil Thompson said: “If we cast our minds back just a few days to last week and recall the way in which technology was used to spread incitement and bring people together to commit acts of criminality, it is easy to understand the four-year sentences that were handed down in court today.”
The prison sentences are the longest handed out so far in connection with the riots and provide further evidence that judges are taking a hard line on offenders, coming after figures emerged showing 65 per cent of people charged with rioting have been remanded in custody, more than six times the usual rate.
The tough stance being taken by the judiciary contrasts with that of Nick Clegg, the deputy prime minister, who called on Tuesday for more so-called “restorative justice”, whereby offenders repair the damage they have done as part of their sentences.
Mr Clegg insisted there should be no knee-jerk decisions on cutting rioters’ benefits and offered to help offenders find work. He also offered comfort to those who had their businesses looted or their homes vandalised or robbed in a speech in which he announced the launch of an independent “community and victims” panel to investigate the causes of the riots.
The panel, which is not a full public inquiry, will report back to all three party leaders in six to nine months.
Communities damaged by the riots will also see groups of offenders in orange clothing atoning for their actions by “repairing and improving” their neighbourhoods, Mr Clegg said.
Victims of looting or vandalism would have the opportunity to meet their attackers face-to-face, as the government announced it was making more money available for restorative justice.
But after days in which ministers have threatened rioters with a number of sticks – benefits cuts, tough custodial sentences and eviction from social housing – Mr Clegg struck a more constructive note with the promise of support for criminals to help them turn their lives around.
From next March, every prisoner in Britain leaving jail would “be met at the prison gates” by providers of work programmes, he said, in a promise to pioneer a “rehabilitation revolution to stop this downward spiral of repeat crime”.
The government will also extend the “payment by results” deal for providers of training to released offenders in two regions next year in a test of the scheme’s effectiveness.
“Offenders won’t just be allowed to drift back into their old life, won’t just be able to drift in to a life of worklessness and yet more repeat crime only to turn up in the same prison having been sentenced again for an even more serious offence,” Mr Clegg said.
He also took a swipe at the “cardboard cutout caricatures” being offered by both of the main political parties. “One side is alleged to say it’s all about culture and morality, the other side is alleged to say it’s all about government policy and social injustice. You know, both sides are partly right and neither side is completely right.”
In a sign of potential splits in the coalition, Mr Clegg gave a lukewarm response to Tory moves to axe rioters’ benefits and introduce tax cuts for the super-rich.
On benefits, Mr Clegg urged caution and said the government needed to make sure changes did not have unintended consequences.
He also said that a cut to the 50p tax rate would only be palatable if other measures were considered to make sure the wealthy were paying their fair share. One is a new levy on owners of “high-value property” – which could be anything from a “mansion tax” to increased capital gains tax on expensive homes.
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