Faces of riot accused: Students, wealthy teenager and boy (11)
THEY were, it was claimed, the alienated poor, the people without hope, lashing out in despair. But as those accused of rioting in London started appearing in court, they included university students, a wealthy businessman's daughter and a boy aged 11.
At Highbury Corner Magistrates' Court, we saw clearly, for the first time, the face of the riot: stripped of its hoods and masks, handcuffed to burly security guards, dressed in white prison T-shirts. And it was a rather different face to the one that we had been expecting.
There was, for instance, Laura Johnson, the 19-year-old daughter of a successful company director. She lives in a detached converted farmhouse in Orpington, with extensive grounds and a tennis court.
She is an English and Italian undergraduate at the University of Exeter, favourite of the Boden-wearing classes.
Before that, she attended St Olave's Grammar School, the fourth-best state school in the country, and its sister school, Newstead, getting nine GCSE A grades and four A-stars.
Yesterday, she was accused of looting the Charlton Curry's superstore of electrical goods worth £5,000.
Another defendant who could not have been motivated by need or despair was an 11-year-old child. When sitting down, the scrawny, rosy-cheeked little boy, who cannot be named for legal reasons, could barely be seen in the youth court's high-security dock. Dressed in a blue Adidas tracksuit, he bit his nails and shifted from foot to foot as he pleaded guilty to looting a Debenhams in his home town of Romford. Charges of violent disorder were dropped. He was, it transpired, already on a "referral order" for another, unrelated offence.
He'd been in custody since Monday, arrested at 10.30pm with a mob of 20 other kids -- although his offence, reaching through a broken window and stealing a waste-paper basket on display, was hardly the crime of the century.
The mother who had let him roam the streets was in court, angry and aggressive, refusing to talk to the press.
Most defendants conformed rather more closely to Mr Cameron's "sick society" template. There was Richard Myles-Palmer, with a foot-long list of convictions, found wheeling a shopping trolley full of stolen power tools through the streets of south London. He and his co-defendant, Jason Gary White, pleaded guilty.
At Highbury yesterday, Myles-Palmer was a typical riot defendant. Only a minority were without previous records. Many seemed to be career criminals. Most were teenagers or in their 20s, but a surprising number were older. Most interestingly of all, they were predominantly white and many had jobs.
Christopher James Harte (23), a scaffolder, pleaded guilty to taking a pair of Lacoste trainers and a bodywarmer from a sportswear shop in Hackney.
"Sorry, I'm panicking," he said, as he gave his address wrong. Anxious, wiping his eyes in the dock, he seemed the classic template: the opportunistic looter who simply saw his chance and took it.
Alexis Bailey (31), a worker at a primary school, pleaded guilty to being part of the flashmob who tried to loot an electrical shop in Croydon. Bailey, who earns £1,000 a month working full-time at Stockwell Primary School, Stockwell, South London, left court with a newspaper covering his face.
The headline, unfortunately, was about "copycat cretins" and Bailey, paper over his eyes, conformed to the role by walking into a lamp-post.
A postman and his A-level student nephew were caught by police in a car rammed with stolen TVs and laptops outside a looted superstore, City of Westminster Magistrates' Court heard. Jamal Ebanks (18) and his uncle Jeffrey Ebanks (32) were stopped by police outside PC World in Croydon, at about 9pm on Monday.
It may be too early to draw firm conclusions from this sorry parade. As one lawyer said, these defendants might well have been the second wave of looters: too old, slow or stupid to avoid getting caught. But yesterday at least, the underclass stereotype beloved of certain politicians simply did not apply.
And while there was little majestic about the law yesterday -- the courtrooms, with their constant parades of lawyers and defendants, felt more like railway stations -- Mr Cameron's other promise, of swift judicial retribution, was very much beginning to be achieved. (© Daily Telegraph, London)