Brits inciting riots on Facebook sentenced to years in prison

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A looted store in in Peckham Rye, London (Photo: Amanda Vincent-Rous, Flickr)

Story by Laura Lynch, PRI's The World. Listen to audio above for full report.

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Justice is being delivered at a breakneck pace in English courts two weeks after riots shook the nation. More than 1,000 people have been charged. Many have already entered guilty pleas, but now some are judging the judges as they pass sentence on the rioters.

Night and day, including weekends, the accused have streamed into courts across England. For some who plead guilty, sentencing has been swift.

David Beswick was given an 18-month jail sentence for handling a television stolen by someone else. His friend, Tony Whitaker, said that is unfair, since other people facing the same charges received milder sentences.

"He's accepted that, guilty plea straight away and he's still got 18 months. Now you look at other people with the same, none of them got eighteen months. He's a working person," Whitaker said.

Prosecutor Nazir Afzal said if people decided to join in on the looting and the violence, they better be ready to pay the price.

"One of those people said that he did it because everybody else was. Well, he'll be paying the same penalty that everybody else will," Afzal said. "The message today is clear -- stealing, looting, handling stolen property is against the law and there are consequences."

Everyone seems to agree that those who took part in the riots must be punished, but some are concerned that justice is being sacrificed in a rush to judgment. Much of the focus is on three so called Facebook crimes. Two young men and a teenager -- who don’t know each other -- posted separate messages on the social network, encouraging people to riot. The teenager has been banned from using social networking sites for a year and given a three-month curfew. The two men expected tougher penalties in adult court, but they weren't expecting four years in prison.

Rebecca Tanner, the lawyer for one of the young men, said her client was unprepared.
 
"Obviously, as a 22 year old, knowing that ultimately whilst he'd been extremely foolish, I think he was shocked, given that his view would be he hadn't actually caused any physical hurt or physical harm, or caused any damage as a result of his actions," Tanner said.

Read the rest of this story on The World website.

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