Legal system lets youngest offenders off hook in riots
Juvenile criminals go home despite Cameron's tough talk
Published 12/08/2011 | 05:00
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.
Despite Prime Minister 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 had 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 Mr Cameron's promise that rioters would "pay for what they have done".
Further undermining his tough rhetoric, Kenneth Clarke, the justice secretary, backed the courts. He rejected Mr Cameron's call for new sentencing rules.
According to the Metropolitan Police, roughly half of the 240 people who have appeared in court so far charged with being involved in the London riots are under the age of 18.
Mr Cameron this week promised that 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 Manchester, a 16-year-old boy admitted handling £120 (€137) worth of stolen goods and was given a 10-month referral order and ordered to pay prosecutor costs of £120.
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.
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-year-old 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. 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 on Monday.
Ministers have spoken of removing benefits and council housing from those convicted of rioting or looting.
In London, an aspiring dance teacher was caught on camera as she took a flatscreen television set 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.
Police chiefs also expressed concern at soft sentences.
David Attoh (18) this week admitted stealing two designer T-shirts in Hackney, London. A magistrate told him 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.
MPs were yesterday recalled from their summer break to debate the riots and Tory backbenchers pressed Mr Cameron to make good on his promises.
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." (© Daily Telegraph, London)