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Saturday, 20 August 2011

UK Riots: Young Yobs Back On Streets Despite David Cameron's Pledge

Young offenders who took part in the rioting and looting that blighted Britain’s streets this week are walking free from court without facing significant penalties.

The 12-year-old boy caught on camera stealing a bottle of wine from a Manchester Sainsbury's (left) hides his face as he leaves court last week.

11 year girl old rioter emerges from Nottingham Magistrates Court.

A 17-year-old girl from Croydon (pixelated, right) is accused taking two televisions from her local Richer Sounds hi-fi shop.

Riot suspect Chelsea Ives, who is an Olympics ambassador and met Sebastian Coe and visited the House of Commons.

Miss Leigh is arrested after she was filmed looting JD Sports in Tottenham.

11 year old boy and 22 year old Jason White (right) leave Highbury Magistrates Court after appearing on looting charges.

Despite David Cameron's promises that they would face "punishment", a string of juvenile criminals have been allowed to return home with their parents.

Several of the young rioters have been pictured in national newspapers committing crimes. Nonetheless, they retain the court's protection of legal anonymity.

The sentences being handed down have dismayed police and MPs after the Prime Minister's promise that rioters would "pay for what they have done".

Further undermining Mr Cameron's tough rhetoric, Kenneth Clarke, the Justice Secretary, backed the courts. He rejected the Prime Minister's call for new sentencing rules.

According to the Metropolitan Police, about half of the 240 people to appear in court so far charged with being involved in the London riots are younger than 18. The Met has arrested 1,009 people in connection with the disorder and 464 have been charged.

Mr Cameron this week promised offenders would not escape punishment because of their age, but several cases yesterday increased concerns that young rioters were not being held to account.

In separate cases in Manchester, two 12–year–old boys walked away from court after being involved in looting. One admitted stealing a £7.49 bottle of wine from a Sainsbury's store and was given a ninemonth referral order.

In court, the youngster appeared ashamed of his actions. But after the hearing, he and his mother swore at reporters.

The other Manchester boy was handed a four–month referral order after admitting using threatening words and behaviour. Several other youths also walked from Manchester city magistrates' court. A 16–year–old boy admitted handling £120 worth of stolen goods and was given a 10–month referral order and ordered to pay prosecutor costs of £120.

A 15–year–old girl was also given a 10–month referral order for stealing alcohol from a Tesco store after admitting burglary. And a 17–yearold was given 18 hours of community service after admitting possessing cannabis.

Mr Cameron has made repeated attempts to dismiss worries about sentencing, promising a hardline approach to rioters. Earlier this week, he warned that even the youngest offenders would face heavy penalties. "If you're old enough to commit the crime, you are old enough to face the punishment," he said. Ministers have spoken of removing benefits and council housing from those convicted of rioting or looting.

In Nottingham yesterday, an 11–year–old girl, who only left primary school last month, smirked and refused to apologise when put before a judge.

She admitted causing criminal damage on Tuesday by smashing shop windows. A judge gave her a nine–month referral order because of her age.

Referral orders are for those under the age of 18 and are a mixture of community work and intervention programmes to help rehabilitation or alter behaviour.

In London, an aspiring dance teacher was filmed as she took a flatscreen television from a looted store, then went back for a second.

The 17 year–old was part of a female gang that allegedly forced its way into the Croydon branch of Richer Sounds. She turned herself in after her picture appeared in the newspapers but retains her anonymity for legal reasons. She was remanded at Westminster magistrates' court to appear at a later date.

James Clappison, a Conservative member of the home affairs committee, said he was "very concerned" about young rioters' light sentences.

"The courts are failing to hand down sufficiently tough sentences," he said. "We need deterrent sentences, but we are not seeing that. Magistrates need to think again."

Police chiefs also expressed concern at soft sentences.

David Attoh, 18, this week admitted stealing two designer T–shirts in Hackney, east London. A magistrate told him that the two days he had spent in a cell awaiting his hearing was adequate punishment and freed him.

Deputy Assistant Commissioner Stephen Kavanagh of the Metropolitan Police said officers who had tackled rioters were dismayed by such sentences.

"Some of us have been disappointed by some of the early sentences we have seen, especially those officers who have been on the front line facing the violence and disorder," he said.

Mr Kavanagh said Tim Godwin, the acting Met Commissioner, had raised concerns about sentencing with ministers. MPs were yesterday recalled from their summer break to debate the riots and Tory backbenchers pressed Mr Cameron to make good on his promises.

Angie Bray, whose Ealing Central constituency saw serious violence, challenged Mr Cameron: "Can he assure my constituents that those who are found guilty will feel the full force of the law, including prison sentences?"

Mr Cameron replied: "People taking part in violent disorder should expect to go to prison."

He also suggested that sentencing rules could be toughened. "We are keeping under constant review whether the courts have the sentencing powers they need and we'll act if necessary," he told MPs.

Government sources said options for change include increasing magistrates' powers to jail offenders. Under current rules, magistrates can jail offenders for a maximum of six months. That could double to a year, sources said.

However, even as Mr Cameron was speaking, Mr Clarke appeared to rule out any change on sentencing. In a BBC Radio Four interview, Mr Clarke said "enough" prison sentences were being imposed.

He said: "The system is working."

David Cameron has promised to confront the “moral collapse” in British society that led to last week’s riots. "We will fight back against gangs, crime and the thugs who make people's lives hell and we will fight back hard, he said. "There is no 'them' and 'us' - there is us. We are all in this together, and we will mend our broken society - together."

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