Our courts have been kept busy this Summer handing out a range of punishments to those who have broken our laws in many places. It is vital for the well-being of society that we have confidence that crimes are dealt with appropriately. Sentencing must carry a measure of consistency and proportion across the Criminal Justice System, reflecting the nature of the crime and acting to deter the guilty from re-offending. For that reason, courts should be encouraged to take into account the attitude of the criminal to their crime as well as their previous history and the impact on wider society of these crimes. We also depend on the Justice System treating all men and women equally, irrespective of background.
On Thursday 11th August at Camberwell Magistrates Court a 23 year electrical engineering student called Nicholas Robinson was given a 6 month prison sentence for a theft he had carried out earlier that week as part of the Riots in Brixton. Robinson stole a case of bottled water from Lidl which retails at £3.50. At the trial he is reported to have said he was ashamed for his actions, he was walking back from his girlfriend’s house when he took the water because he claims he was thirsty. (http://tinyurl.com/6535j3z)
A month earlier on Friday 1st July at Maidstone Crown Court, a judge sentenced a 70-year-old retired pig farmer, Paul Cook to 9 months in prison for defrauding the Government of £14,000 which were expenses he claimed for his work. At the end of his 9 day trial in May, he had explained to journalists that he might appeal adding: “I’m devastated but I have no regrets. I did nothing wrong.” At his sentencing appearance his defence team said that he had been having “suicidal thoughts” whilst waiting for the sentence and that it would be “unjust and cruel” to send him to prison. (http://tinyurl.com/6fgjzju)
Cook or as he is more usually known, Lord Hanningfield had been claiming £147 overnight parliamentary allowance from the House of Lords whilst the taxpayers of Essex were simultaneously paying for a chauffeur employed by Essex County Council to take him home (a distance of 50 miles). Paul Cook became Lord Hanningfield in 1998 and was selected by colleagues as leader of the County Council in 2001, a role which he exercised until 2010 when his crimes becamed public. During his time on the Conservative benches of the Lords he served as party Whip and Spokesman on both Transport and Education issues. In his trial he suggested that 500 – 600 of his colleagues were making similar claims. He was recently released after 9 weeks release from minimum security prison Stanford Hill in Kent on a scheme known as Home Detention Curfew (HDC) which is available to low risk prisoners serving sentences of 3 months – 4 years, who are deemed appropriate for the scheme. To be placed on HDC, a prisoner must have served a quarter of their sentence and have spent a minimum of 30 days in prison. Cook was one of a number of Peers and MP’s to be prosecuted for falsely claiming expenses. Others were found guilty of stealing much more than £14,000.
Despite a check on the internet, no information is available to indicate if Nicholas Robinson is being considered for HDC or if he too is serving his sentence in a minimum security prison. As has been reported here previously, 200,000+ members of the public have signed an e-petition regarding the ongoing punishment of rioters past the end of their formal sentences. Many of these people may feel concerned if rioters such as Robinson are allowed out of jail early, even with a tag as HDC requires. Robinson was not the only one to be found guilty of theft as a result of the riots.
Whatever their respective attititudes towards their crimes neither man seems likely to reoffend and the public purse has already spent enough on Cook’s comfort and trial for the pair of them (he was reputed to have spent £62,000 on one trip to the USA alone). Neither men appears to offer any sort of threat to the public. I cannot see any gain in sending either man to jail. In my view Nicholson should have been sentenced to a few hours shelf stacking at Lidl and a further period of community service in the Brixton area and encouraged to complete his studies. Cook stole the equivalent of a years salary and clearly has an interest in both education and transport. My suggestion is that he should have been sentenced to carry out 2000 hours (a years working hours) of community service washing school minibuses for Essex County Council.