UK men lose appeals against four-year Facebook riot sentences

Two men sentenced to four years for posting messages on Facebook inciting other people to riot in their home towns have lost their respective appeals.
Written by Emil Protalinski, Contributor

The Court of Appeal in London has rejected appeals by 20-year-old Jordan Blackshaw and 22-year-old Perry Sutcliffe-Keenan, who were jailed for using Facebook to try to incite disorder during August's riots in England. At the September 27 hearing, the pair's lawyers argued that their four-year sentences were "manifestly excessive," a term that appears 11 times in the 29-page court document (PDF).

The Lord Chief Justice, Lord Judge, Sir John Thomas, and Lord Justice Leveson concluded it was wrong to suggest their offences had been minor:

We are unimpressed with the suggestion that in each case the appellant did no more than make the appropriate entry in his Facebook. Neither went from door to door looking for friends or like minded people to join up with him in the riot. All that is true. But modern technology has done away with the need for such direct personal communication. It can all be done through Facebook or other social media. In other words, the abuse of modern technology for criminal purposes extends to and includes incitement of very many people by a single step. Indeed it is a sinister feature of these cases that modern technology almost certainly assisted rioters in other places to organise the rapid movement and congregation of disorderly groups in new and unpoliced areas.

Two months ago, Judge Elgan Edwards QC of Chester Crown Court sentenced Blackshaw and Sutcliffe-Keenan 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 started out as a misguided joke between the two men.

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 sentences 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 appealed on the grounds that their sentences were disproportionate to the offence. Their solicitors did not anticipate the sentences would be as long as four years since the men did not actually cause any physical harm nor cause any damage with their actions.

The summer 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 the country were arrested for participating in the riots, almost half (some 1,300) of which were charged with riot-related offenses.

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