19 Aug 2011

Rioters and looters fill prisons

The prison population has hit record levels as increasing numbers of people are jailed over last week’s riots. As the first appeals are being heard, a woman has had her prison sentence overturned.

Rioters and looters fill prisons (Getty)

The total number of prisoners hit 86,654, which 723 more than the previous record of 85,931 set last week. This means there are only 1,500 places left in the operational capacity of 88,093, according to Ministry of Justice figures.

In total, 1,297 people have appeared in court charged with offences linked to the riots which swept across London and many other major English cities.

Two-thirds have been remanded in custody in comparison with one in 10 last year for those charged with serious offences, in a sign of the tough approach taken towards rioters.

[Judges have a duty] not to be influenced by angry Britain. Criminal barrister John Cooper QC

The President of the Prison Governors Association, Eoin Mr McLennan-Murray, said: “What is worrying is if the landscape of sentencing has changed. If the courts continue to be heavy-handed with other offences and use custody more readily than they have done previously then that would be problematic longer term.”

Human rights campaigners and lawyers have concerns about the tough sentences for rioters, saying they are disproportionate.

Leading criminal barrister John Cooper QC warned that judges and magistrates had a duty “not to be influenced by angry Britain”, describing some of the sentences handed down already as “somewhat hysterical”.

According to the Guardian’s analysis of 1,000 riot-linked cases, convicted rioters are being handed prison sentences that are on average 25 per cent longer than normal.

Prison sentence overturned

As some of the first appeals over the tough sentences were heard, one woman who was jailed for five months after admitting she accepted a pair of looted shorts from her housemate walked free from prison.

Mother-of-two Ursula Nevin, 24, who was jailed by a district judge last week after she pleaded guilty to handling stolen goods, had her sentence reduced on appeal.

The Recorder of Manchester, Judge Andrew Gilbart QC, said the original decision was “wrong in principle” as he ordered that she should instead perform 75 hours of unpaid work for the community.

Nevin was in bed at the time of the widespread disorder in Manchester city centre where her lodger, Gemma Corbett, helped herself to clothing and footwear from the Vans store and then took them back to the house they shared in Stretford, Greater Manchester.