Tories and Lib Dems split over sentencing for rioters
A deepening row over the tough justice being handed out to English rioters risked splitting the government yesterday as leading Liberal Democrats accused Conservatives of "cheering on" heavy sentences.
British Prime Minister David Cameron and several senior Conservatives said it was important for judges to send a "tough message" to those involved in last week's widespread violence and looting.
But their Lib Dem partners joined civil liberty groups and lawyers in raising concerns that the punishments were damaging the reputation of the criminal justice system.
One serving judge blamed the riots on a lack of upbringing for some and said the courts were "justified" to come down hard on the "dangerous and predatory people" who had devastated major cities.
However, a leading barrister warned there was a danger the public would think politicians were now swaying judges in their sentencing decisions.
There was growing concern that offenders faced a "postcode lottery" because of the varied punishments and sentences throughout the country.
Britain's Sentencing Council, which guides courts on punishments, has denied suggestions that its members were split over the actions of judges.
The courts are now bracing themselves for a series of appeals in the coming weeks and months.
The row escalated after two men were jailed for four years on Tuesday for using Facebook to incite riots which never took place.
In contrast, it emerged that Joshua Moulinie (19), who posted messages on the social networking website encouraging people to vandalise a shop avoided going to court and was told to apologise.
Mr Cameron backed the decision to jail Jordan Blackshaw (20) and Perry Sutcliffe-Keenan (22) to four years each for their Facebook incitement. Blackshaw is to appeal.
Mr Cameron said: "What happened on our streets was absolutely appalling behaviour and to send a very clear message that it's wrong and won't be tolerated is what the criminal justice system should be doing.
"They decided in that court to send a tough sentence, send a tough message and I think it's very good that courts are able to do that."
A source said that Kenneth Clarke, the justice secretary, echoed Mr Cameron's view, as did Eric Pickles, the communities secretary, who said: "I think people would be rightly alarmed if incitement to riot got off with just a slap on the wrist."
However, Menzies Campbell, the former leader of the Liberal Democrats party, said: "With all due deference to the prime minister, politicians should not be either cheering nor booing in the matter of sentencing." (© Daily Telegraph, London)