The sentencing of rioters this summer appeared to be harsh, disproportionate and policy driven. The government tried to influence sentencing and the judiciary went along with it, handing down long sentences for crimes that would normally barely even reach the court. The damage caused by the riots, especially to small businesses, came at a high cost. The government and the public wanted there to be a consequence for all those involved. The courts proceeded to make an example of those who had looted goods, by giving them prison sentences of up to several years.
There was a father of two jailed for 18 months for stealing a flat screen tv, a 19 year old was sentenced to 2 years in a young offenders institution for drinking stolen champagne and picking up a pair of stolen trainers, and then the case of the 6 month sentence for stolen water from Lidl. What about ex Labour minister Elliot Morley? He was freed last year after serving only a quarter of his 16 month sentence for claiming 30,000 pounds in expenses. While Andrew Wetherall, the director of KPMG who stole 500,000 pounds by fiddling his expense claims. He was sentenced to 4 years, for a crime that vastly outweighs the cost of a flatscreen tv. The theft of the damage caused by the riots is not insignificant or justifiable, but a custodial sentence is in my opinion highly unsuitable for most of those involved in the riots (community service and restorative justice would be much more helpful in rebuilding communities). It is also completely inconsistent with the large scale theft committed by individuals in government or in charge of running large corporations.
Although figures show that the majority of those arrested for theft last summer were not in fact children, the rioters were still overwhelmingly young people. The media were quick to once again demonize the British youth, even last week there was debate about the discipline of children and whether restrictions on smacking children should be lifted. However, the public seems to ignore the great examples being set by adults in the form of fraudulent businessmen, MP’s and executives of large corporations. These individuals are portrayed in a completely different light to those who stole a tv, a pair of trainers or a bottle of water last summer.
Combined with the lack of prospects, how will the next generation gain respect for our society when those at the top are regularly looting assets to lead lavish lifestyles. When young people see the anarchic behaviour of the rich and the often mild consequences of this behaviour if any, how can we expect them to develop different values? Many people who got caught up in the moment and took part in the chaos, behaved as if it was their right to appropriate goods e.g. a pair of trainers, even trying them on before leaving the ransacked shop. The public were shocked by these details, but how is this different, in fact it is hardly comparable to the behaviour of Bill Godley, Andrew Wetherall, Elliot Morley, Lord Taylor or the cases of Alstom, BAE etc… The recent corporate fraud cases are too numerous to name.
I’m not condoning stealing, but why is corporate fraud treated like a relatively harmless and victimless crime? On the UK’s Fraud Prevention Service (CIFAS) website, the Chief Executive, Peter Hurst states that although violent/aggravated burglary and scams are different crimes, their consequences are often the same. There are many different fraud cases and many different types theft, but the money stolen is also money lost by others. Those sentenced for looting or theft took goods as if they were entitled to it, just like those who have committed fraud. If judges are quick to make examples of those who looted during the summer riots, why are they not applying the same tactic to those who commit corporate fraud?