Is Incitement worse than Perpetration?

Reported in the news earlier this week were a number of failed court appeals regarding the harsh sentences of some of those convicted of taking part in or encouraging the riots seen throughout England this summer, particularly in the London area. It can be seen from the sentences passed and comparing them to those handed down in previous cases that the judges in the original cases gave much harsher sentences than those that would be expected for similar crimes occurring in otherwise peaceful circumstances. This is not, as some media outlets would have you believe, a “new-found sentencing policy“, but has been in place for several decades. The context in which a crime took place has always been taken into account and crimes taking place during periods of public disorder have long been subject to heavier punishments.

The stories most often reported involve the two men in their early twenties who were convicted of inciting public disorder on Facebook and were then each sentenced to four years in prison. Sorry to get all Daily Mail about this but I happen to believe the Court of Appeal was wholly justified in its decision to uphold the judgments from the original case. Those of you who feel that the inability of these men to inspire any followers into actually rioting should be taken in to account in the sentencing will not agree but I believe it is the intention, rather than the execution of the crime that should be the deciding factor when it comes to prison terms. Surely we shouldn’t be giving time off for being a bad criminal? We’re not talking here about men who failed in their criminal activities because they couldn’t bring themselves to go through with it, or because they had a change of heart and realised the error of their ways. We’re talking about two young men whose lives were so empty and pathetic they convinced themselves it would be dangerous and exciting to get a group of their peers together and copy those ‘hardcore hoodies’ from London by vandalising small Cheshire towns. There was no change of heart here as they were arrested when they turned up to their own non-existent riot. Why should they in effect be rewarded for the lawful behaviour of their local citizens? A lawfulness which they tried and failed to disrupt.

Does anyone feel that the attempted suicide bombers of July 21st 2005 should have been given lesser sentences because their bombs did not explode? Clearly those from July 7th could not be prosecuted due to their own deaths but is attempted murder really a lesser crime than murder? I believe not, unless the criminal act failed due to a lack of conviction or alternation of disposition by the perpetrator. Does a thief stopped by a security guard at the door of the shop deserve a lesser punishment the one whose goods make it as far as the car boot sale? Would a judge go easy on the burglar who left all the platinum jewellery in the box thinking it was silver and thus worth less than the gold? More examples can be given of these but in the end it comes down to your personal belief on the importance of the actual criminal act or the motive behind its conception.

There is of course another reason for these harsh sentences, prison terms are not merely punishments for those convicted. Of this they are almost wholly ineffectual when used on ‘low-level’, non-violent offenders. The other major reason for the severity of the penalties in these instances was to act as a deterrent for those contemplating similar actions in future. I am generally of the opinion that strong sentencing on its own does little to deter would be criminals because nobody commits a crime thinking there’s a good chance of them being caught and convicted. However, when the evidence is posted all over the internet for public consumption on a network as infinitely traceable as Facebook and the would be perpetrators are not career criminals used to avoiding detection by those in authority, I believe having a regime of lengthy prison sentences will deter many (who may have considered it this summer) from posting about similar events if and when public disorder erupts again. They will now be fully aware that recent precedents have been set, that using social media rather than going door to door will not lessen your prison term and that being a brain-dead moronic idiot with no life, no friends and to whom nobody listens is no excuse for trying to cause large-scale robbery and vandalism.

If financial and political events throughout Europe are to be taken as signs for what may befall us in future, while we watch events unfolding in Greece and other mediterranean countries. Those of us who believe that violent disorder is only ever destructive and damaging to any cause one may have for protest and that working together towards solutions for the problems we all face at these times is the only reasonable way forward may well be glad for any deterring effect these sentences may have had.

Some of the details in this piece may be inaccurate due to poor reporting of the facts and my own inability to find the truth and I apologise for this but I do believe that my arguments still stand.

Thanks for reading.


All comments welcome, I’ll try to answer as many as I can.


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