Judge Elgan Edwards QC of Chester Crown Court sentenced 20-year-old Jordan Blackshaw and 22-year-old Perry Sutcliffe-Keenan this week to four years in prison for their failed attempts to use Facebook to incite riots in the UK. The judge said he hoped the sentences would act as a deterrent. The two men were convicted for using Facebook to encourage violent disorder in their hometowns in northwest England.
Blackshaw created a Facebook event entitled "Smash d[o]wn in Northwich Town" for August 8 but only the police showed up, and arrested him. Perry Sutcliffe-Keenan posted a Facebook page entitled "The Warrington Riots" on August 9 but took it down the next day, when he woke up with a hangover. The idea has started out as a misguided joke between the two men, according to the BBC.
They both pleaded guilty and were found guilty under sections 44 and 46 of the Serious Crime Act to intentionally encourage another to assist the commission of an indictable offence. The duo admitted to encouraging crime and causing a very real panic in their Cheshire towns at a time when the UK was not at its best. The four year sentence is the longest that has been issued in relation to last week's riots and as such has sparked much controversy since the men had no previous convictions, did not participate in any violence themselves, and the riots they tried to incite never actually broke out.
Blackshaw and Sutcliffe-Keenan plan to appeal on the grounds that the sentence was disproportionate to the offence. Their solicitors did not anticipate the sentence would be as long as four years since the men did not actually cause any physical harm or caused any damage with their actions.
The violence in the UK started after the fatal police shooting of a man in London and quickly spread to other cities, terrorizing the country for four straight nights, leaving five people dead. Nearly 3,000 people across have been arrested for participating in the riots, almost half (some 1,300) of which have been charged with riot-related offenses.
"They both used Facebook to organise and orchestrate serious disorder at a time when such incidents were taking place in other parts of the country," Martin McRobb of the Merseyside and Cheshire Crown Prosecution Service said in a statement. "Both defendants, in Northwich and Warrington respectively, sought to gain widespread support in order to replicate similar criminality. While the judge heard the two defendants were previously of good character, they admitted committing very serious offences that carry a maximum sentence of 10 years."
"If we cast our minds back just a few days to last week and recall the way in which technology was used to spread incitement and bring people together to commit acts of criminality, it is easy to understand the four-year sentences that were handed down in court today," assistant chief constable Phil Thompson of the Cheshire Constabulary said in a statement. "Officers took swift action against those people who have been using Facebook and other social media sites to incite disorder. The sentences passed down today recognize how technology can be abused to incite criminal activity and sends a strong message to potential troublemakers about the extent to which ordinary people value safety and order in their lives and their communities. Anyone who seeks to undermine that will face the full force of the law."
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