Why you can get four years jail for inciting disorder on Facebook

The jailing of two men for four years each for inciting disorder using Facebook has drawn some surprise and criticism online.

Jordan Blackshaw, 20, from Marston near Northwich, and Perry Sutcliffe-Keenan, 22, from Warrington, were convicted at Chester Crown Court.

It’s not clear at present whether the sentences were for encouraging riot or violent disorder but the sentences, while harsh, are easily explained.

I presume that the pair pled guilty. Either way, the court found as a matter of fact that the defendants intended for their encouragement to be followed. Had that happened, numerous offences would have been committed in the course of the ensuing disorder including burglaries, thefts, robberies and violent crimes such as assault, grievous bodily harm or even murder.

It is of no credit to the defendants that their encouragement wasn’t followed.

The courts sentence encouragement to an offence in the same way as the substantive offence itself. Encouragement to riot is sentenced in the same way as riot. Encouragement to murder is sentenced in the same way as murder.

The maximum sentence for violent disorder is five years. The maximum for riot is ten years.

While these sentences are heavy, they take into account the actual consequences had the defendants’ intentions succeeded, with all the injuries, economic loss and anxiety that would have followed. The people of Cheshire can be thankful that Blackshaw and Sutcliffe-Keenan didn’t succeed and a very clear message has been sent to anyone considering a similar course of action.

Update 17 Aug: Both defendants pleaded guilty. The charges were encouraging riot, for which the maximum sentence is ten years.

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  1. To start your comment with “Lets look at the logic of this” and then abandon logic all together does your argument no favours James. But then you don’t really have an argument , you just have a feeling.

  2. Your article explains clearly why these sentences were applied, thanks for that. I don’t necessarily agree with their severity, but because I’m not a complete arse, I’m not going to insult you and make jokes about suicide for your unemotional and clarifying piece.

  3. I think James has left the building.

  4. In my head I intend of blowing up the country! I must be stopped!

  5. “James” has indeed left the building. Play the ball not the man, please.

  6. Colmq: “Encouragement” isn’t a thought crime. You actually have to do something (e.g. set up a Facebook page) not just think about it.

  7. This is naked class justice. Four years for writing something on Facebook.

    I wonder if Adrian Short would imprison the politicians, journalists and pundits who encourage “our” government to bomb and invade other countries?

    Their intention is also that their encouragement should be followed and people certainly die – in their thousands – as a result.

    And what penalty would Adrian Short advise for the police who shoot and kill innocent people – hundreds have died in police custody in recent years and not a single person has been prosecuted. This is what lit the fuse that set off the riots in the first place.

    Finally, if Adrian Short wants to live in a police state then perhaps he should relocate to Burma or Iran, for example.

  8. Ed,

    I oppose all tyranny, whether it comes from the police, other branches of the state, from the mob or from individual criminals.

    Debates about foreign policy don’t usually fall within the remit of domestic law.

    I’m sure you appreciate that it’s particularly difficult (though not impossible) to investigate the police for suspected crimes committed in the course of their duties. I hope we can both welcome the prosecution of PC Simon Harwood for the alleged manslaughter of Ian Tomlinson at the G20 demonstrations in London. The relatively recent establishment of the IPCC is a step in the right direction in holding the police accountable and ensuring that they are subjects of the law just like everyone else.

  9. The IPCC, by misleading the public about the Duggan case, revealed that they are on the same side of the class divide as the police.

    Can you not see that there is one law for the poor and one for the rich and powerful in Britain?

    Kids write all kinds of trash on Facebook.

    “Debates about foreign policy don’t usually fall within the remit of domestic law.”

    That is because it is generally the preserve of the ruling class. When ordinary people get involved – such as when 2 million marched to oppose the bombing and invasion of Iraq – they are at best ignored and at worst arrested.

    Another example of class justice.

    Sorry but you cannot talk about law in a vacuum as if it was something pure and detached from the material realities of life in a bitterly divided society.

    The law is there to protect the thieving of the rich from the thieving of the poor. These disproportionate senteces are the clearest evidence of that.

  10. Still hopefully kids will learn some useful lessons from the petty tyrants handing out grotesque sentences in the Magistrates Courts:

    - don’t trust anyone in authority
    - there is no equality between the law
    - rich people are your enemy
    - use more secure means of communications
    - don’t admit to anything

    I don’t condone mindless violence but to paraphrase George Orwell, when I see police fighting against workers or the unemployed I instinctively know whose side I am on.

  11. Ed,

    When you see workers and the unemployed fighting against other workers and unemployed, whose side are you on then?

    From what I saw of the riots it was just another example of the (temporarily) powerful subjugating the weak. Exactly the same behaviour that you deplore in rich people.

  12. “Exactly the same behaviour that you deplore in rich people.”

    That is precisely why I don’t condone the violence. It was largely misdirected.

    However I understand the anger out there and there is absolutely no justification for jailing two teenagers.

    It is an attack on free speech but as I stated above, it is a good lesson to every person in the country about inequality and class division.

  13. Jerry Engelbach

    The disagreement in this case is between those who feel that intent is a crime and those who, like me, believe that free speech is an absolute right.

    The “shouting fire in a crowded theatre” analogy is absolutely false. What matters is not the shouting itself, but whether anyone acts in response to it.

    If no consequences result, the shout may get the person thrown out or at worst fined for disturbibg the peace, but to proscute someone for what might have resulted is a slippery slope that can justify the suppression of all dissent.

    “Making an example” of people is not justice, but more akin to hostage taking: making some pay for the crimes of others.

    I agree completely with Ed that the sentences of those two boys is a caution to all of us in how to avoid running afoul of the authorities in an oligarchic dictatorship.

  14. Ed,

    I’ve deleted your last comment.

    This isn’t Comment is Free. You’re welcome to discuss the issues but not to post personal attacks on my own blog.


  15. I did not see any personal attack so I think you are being over-sensitive.

    Here is the link again. People can judge for themselves the motivation behind these harsh sentences.