Facebook riot posts lead to four-year jail terms

Facebook riot posts lead to four-year jail terms

Summary: The sentences for the two young men from the North West of England 'recognise how technology can be abused to incite criminal activity', Cheshire Police have said


Two men in North West England have been sentenced to four years in prison for using Facebook to incite others to riot, although neither man's actions resulted in any rioting.

Jordan Blackshaw and Perry Sutcliffe-Keenan

Jordan Blackshaw and Perry Sutcliffe-Keenan have each been sentenced to four years in jail for using Facebook to incite others to riot. Photo credit: Cheshire Constabulary

Jordan Blackshaw, 20, and Perry Sutcliffe-Keenan, 22, were sentenced at Chester Crown Court on Tuesday, a week after mob violence struck many parts of the UK. The riots and lootings had prompted prime minister David Cameron to say that those "using social media for violence" had to be stopped.

"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.

Thompson added that the constabulary had "adopted a robust policing approach using the information coming into the organisation to move quickly and effectively against any person whose behaviour was likely to encourage criminality".

The sentences passed down today recognise how technology can be abused to incite criminal activity.

– Phil Thompson, Cheshire Constabulary

According to a report in The Guardian, Blackshaw had set up a Facebook event called "Smash Down in Northwich Town" for the night of 8 August, while Sutcliffe-Keenan had created a page called "The Warrington Riots". Nobody came to Blackshaw's event, except for police officers who arrested him. Sutcliffe-Keenan's page was taken down after a day, and also did not result in any rioting.

"The sentences passed down today recognise 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," Thompson said. "Anyone who seeks to undermine that will face the full force of the law."

The crackdown on the use of social media to incite violence has also resulted in a man being charged for using BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) to organise a water fight.

On Wednesday, Blackshaw's solicitor told the BBC that the Cheshire man intends to appeal against his sentence.

Calls to block social media

The government has said it is thinking about blocking access to social media services such as Twitter, Facebook and Research In Motion's BBM — whether access would be blocked on an individual or blanket basis is not clear — and is talking with those three companies about the idea this week.

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All three companies have said they welcome the talks, with Facebook pointing out that it had already been taking down "credible threats of violence" from the social-networking site.

Acting Metropolitan Police commissioner Tim Godwin told MPs on the Home Affairs Committee on Tuesday that the Met had considered seeking legal powers to switch off services such as BBM and Facebook during the disorder, but "the legality is questionable, very questionable".

The police also seized smartphones during the riots, allowing them to see what was going on in the encrypted BBM service. 'Breaking into' BBM in this way apparently allowed the police to foil attacks on the Olympics site, Oxford Street stores and the Westfield shopping centres.

As of Tuesday, London's Metropolitan Police alone had arrested 1,685 people over the riots and looting, and charged 985.

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Topics: Security, Government UK

David Meyer

About David Meyer

David Meyer is a freelance technology journalist. He fell into journalism when he realised his musical career wouldn't pay the bills. David's main focus is on communications, as well as internet technologies, regulation and mobile devices.

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  • These vicious and wholly unwarranted sentences reflect the stalking fear felt by the establishment, and the unexpected shock and intensity that resulted. They have absolutely nothing to do with any sane concept of justice. For the time being, the public are with them.
    A 6-month prison sentence for an MP convicted of defrauding the taxpayer of £16,000
    A 4-year prison sentence for a rioter convicted of incitement to riot using Facebook - at which no-one turned up.

    British justice. Perfectly appropriate, consistent and fair.
  • Although I agree that white collar crime is on the whole, inconsistent in the way in which the cjs responds to it in terms of punishment, I cannot agree with the rest of your post as they are two different crimes. It doesn't matter that no-one turned up because it is still incitement to riot, which over the recent riots, are including burglary, assault, arson, vandalism and murder.

    Planning to commit murder, or planning to rob or commit burlary are punishable by law, and so should planning and the incitement of rioting. Tax fraud is more or less a victimless crime as although the MP is stealing money from the government, and therefore us taxpayers, no-ones lives are destroyed and no-one really knows that they have been affected. Rioting however, has seriously affected individual's lives as well as breaking down whole communities. People's businesses are destroyed through burglary and arson, and people are being assaulted and even murdered by rioters.

    These riots in my opinion, are occuring due to a lack of respect and fear of the criminal justice system, with police accountability and people's views such as yours making it impossible for the police and criminal justice system as a whole to act in a way that will deter people from carrying out these acts in the future. If we left it to you (i'm only picking on you because you made the post, but i'm sure many people agree with you) we'd jail these two people for 6 months or less, or give them 20 hours of community service as this is taking a more restorative justice approach, which would mean that the consequence would not outweigh the gain, leading to more acts of criminality occuring in the future.
  • What a load of shxt. 'Vicious and wholly unwarranted'. Try telling that to the parents of those boys who were killed by looters driving off with their haul. Just because no one turned up shouldn't make a difference. Look how many people turned up elsewhere. Thousand of rabid dogs, all after free trainers and lap top computers. Mostly kids, and from what I saw on the TV, mostly black (ooh, she said 'black', she must be a racist). Society has little to do with this, the parents must take most of the blame. Children are pretty much exposed to the same influences: computer games, TV, crap music, sport etc. So why do some kids think it's ok to steal and smash things up? I'd say upbringing has to be a major factor. People need to take responsibility for their actions, and if you want change there are plenty of ways that are much better than going on some anarchist's march and smashing the windows of banks. The net effect of actions like that is, and always will be zero.

    And don't tell me there are no jobs because there are. Sure it's hard now, but it's always been hard to get a decent job, you have to put in some real effort and most can't be bothered.

    One fool on Sky was quoted as saying, 'yeah, I smashed up Comet 'cos I gave them my CV and they never replied init'. Good job Einstein. You'll go far. He then spoke about stealing some baby clothes for his son, and he also claimed to be 16 years old.

    But I totally agree that the sentences for MPs were far too lenient. That was a disgrace.
  • let me see...freedom of speech expression ..Ummmm...wait a minute..sounds familair??
    as for rioting-looting...yes--agree--catch those and nail them....hard...
  • I TOTALLY agree with the first post!!! you people need to wake up and smell the coffee, it is widely known by those who have educated themselves, that if a society gives up liberties in return for security they will end up loosing both.
    Did anyone read the story about the children arrested for organizing a water fight in Colchester.
    And if sentences can be handed out for planning mass congregation of people (for fun), then surly Glastonbury Festival, Schools, Colleges, Universities, Charity Runs, Sport Events etc should all be shut down and their organizers arrested and jailed.
    Peace & Love
  • The sentence is a function of the circumstances. It could be that the two young men were sentenced to long terms to discourage potential miscreants from the same behavior. If the authorities learned of a grand leader who orchestrated the whole disturbance, it’s doubtful that person would get a four year term for a conviction on the same charges. The reason: To keep the peace.
    I applaud the English justice system for so quickly securing convictions against the guilty. The same effort would take a decade in the United States.
  • At the end of the day, what if people had turned up as a result of the posts?
    They made their own beds.
    Mick Fandango