Tom Walker looks at the judicial crackdown on the riots and its aftermath
Anderson Fernandes took two scoops of ice cream from a Manchester cafe after finding the door ajar during last summer’s riots.
He took one lick but didn’t like the coffee flavour, so gave the cone to a passer-by. A judge later admitted the crime was “trivial”. But he still jailed for Anderson for 16 months.
This was just one of hundreds of draconian sentences handed down after the riots. These harsh penalties weren’t justice. They were about the authorities taking revenge after they had lost control of the streets.
The police in particular revelled in the convictions. They took the names, addresses and photographs of people who’d been charged and published them online.
Dane Williamson was accused of setting fire to a Miss Selfridge store in Manchester. After nine days on remand the case against him was dropped. But by then the police had put his address out on Twitter—and Dane’s flat had been torched by suspected vigilantes.
Brian Richardson is a lawyer who represented some of the rioters. He told Socialist Worker, “The courts were ruthlessly determined to crack down. They imposed harsh sentences regardless of existing guidelines.
“Their intention was to ‘deter others from similar criminal activity’. But even in their own terms this strategy is bound to fail—because it does not address the rage, exclusion and alienation that lay at the heart of the uprising.”
But recently not everything has gone the police’s way. Last month eight people were found not guilty of riot-related murders in Birmingham. A senior cop now faces investigation after the judge said he had “invented” evidence.
The police have trawled through CCTV footage to hunt down rioters. This is one reason why 70 percent of those arrested were already “known to the police”.
The semi-random raids continue but the pace has dropped. Of 3,051 brought before the courts on riot-related charges, just 300 were charged after January 2012. Some 1,968 of the total were found guilty and sentenced. This compares to an estimated 15,000 who rioted.
Yet hundreds of young lives have been destroyed by the state clampdown. A year on some 846 people are still in prison—and 86 of them are aged under 18.
Half of the people sentenced over the riots are from a black, Asian or mixed background. This hugely disproportionate figure is a stark reminder of the endemic racism running through the justice system.
The longest sentence so far has been 30 years for a man in Birmingham who appeared to fire a gun towards a police helicopter. That's the kind of sentence people get for murder.
Magistrate courts stayed open through the night and held unprecedented Sunday sittings. Many of those who appeared had limited legal representation. They had hearings lasting moments before two thirds were remanded in custody—many for months on end.
These overnight sittings are being prepared in case they need to be used again—this time for the Olympic Games.