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The PJ Tatler

by
Mike McNally

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August 18, 2011 - 6:31 am

As sure as night follows day, the civil liberties/human rights lobby is complaining about the long sentences being handed down to some individuals convicted in connection with last week’s riots. And, just as predictably, the BBC has taken up their cause.

The rioters’ rights crowd are particularly upset about four-year prison terms imposed on two men, Jordan Blackshaw and Perry Sutcliffe-Keenan, who didn’t actually take part in any rioting, but who used Facebook to try to incite riots in their town. The maximum sentence the pair could have received is ten years, and even if the sentences aren’t reduced on appeal – which is highly likely – they’ll be out of prison in a little over two years.

That hasn’t stopped campaigners condemning the sentences as “disproportionate”. But if they appear disproportionate, it’s only because sentences for other people convicted in connection with the riots have been relatively lenient, as is the case with sentencing in general in Britain.

Those criticizing the jail terms seem to think that just because Blackshaw and Sutcliffe-Keenan were unsuccessful in their efforts to provoke riots in their neighbourhoods, the seriousness of their offences is somehow diminished. But it’s their intent for which they’re being punished. If their attempts had been successful, then as in other areas shops would have been looted, buildings would have been burned and police officers would have been injured; it’s even possible that the present toll of five deaths as a result of the riots would have been added to.

I’ve been unable to find polling that specifically addresses the length of sentences handed out to last week’s rioters, but the polling data that is available suggests the public is firmly in favour of tough measures. A poll for the Independent newspaper found the 78% of people thought anyone convicted of involvement in the riots should face an automatic prison sentence, no matter how minor their involvement.

And a poll for The Sun newspaper found that clear majorities supported the use of water cannon, plastic bullets, tear gas, Tasers, curfews and troops to deal with riots (one-third, incidentally, favored the use of live ammunition). The poll didn’t ask specifically about prison sentences, but the other findings suggest a distinct lack of sympathy for the rioters.

Yet on the BBC News Channel yesterday, one anchor claimed while interviewing a Conservative politician that certain people – the inference being Conservative politicians and the British public – were “baying” for long sentences, and suggested that those demanding tough punishment for rioters were imposing “mob rule of a different kind”. You couldn’t get a better example of the disconnect between Britain’s ‘national broadcaster’ and the British people.

The smattering of civil liberties activists, liberal commentators and left-wing politicians whining about tough sentences speak for – and I’m being generous here – a tiny minority of the British people. Unfortunately, that smattering includes a considerable number of BBC journalists; and with the BBC providing 70 per cent of TV news in Britain, as well as dominating online and radio news, it’s no wonder that so many people here are repeatedly persuaded to fall for idiotic liberal ideas.

Mike McNally is a journalist based in Bath, England. He posts at PJ Tatler and at his own blog Monkey Tennis, and tweets at @notoserfdom. When he's not writing about politics he writes about Photoshop.
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