‘Shocking and Inexcusable’: Facebook Riot Plotters Lose Appeal Against Long Sentences

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REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth

Police officers wearing riot gear walk past a burning building in Tottenham, north London, on Aug. 7, 2011.

In August, as London burned and rioters pelted police with rocks, two young men invited their friends to a “smash down” via Facebook. That was, as their lawyers have admitted, “monumentally foolish.” But does it really merit four years behind bars?

Britain’s most senior judge upheld that tough sentence yesterday, rejecting appeals from 21-year old Jordan Blackshaw and his friend Perry Sutcliffe-Keenan, 22, to have their sentences reduced. The judge accepted that neither man went door-to-door to incite violence, but deemed that irrelevant given the context of the riots. “Modern technology has done away with the need for such direct personal communication,” he said, concluding that both intended to fan the flames of violence at a time of “sustained countrywide mayhem.”

(MORE: Did Twitter and BlackBerry Fan the Flames of the London Riots?)

Five other offenders had their appeals denied as well. Among them, Lorri Anne McGrane, 19, will spend 13 months behind bars for stealing a television in Peckham. And Enrico Vanasco, 25, will serve twenty months for stealing £300 ($470) worth of camera equipment from a Manchester shop.

Sentences like those have drawn the ire of penal reformers and civil rights activists. “While only those sitting in court know the full details of individual cases, it is difficult to understand why the Court of Appeal upheld exceptionally heavy sentences which will blight the lives of young men, some of whom appear to have acted stupidly rather than violently,” Juliet Lyon, director of the Prison Reform Trust, said in a statement.

Three men did have their sentences reduced on appeal. One of those men will now serve six months in jail rather than 12 for handling stolen goods. Even that may seem harsh to some. But the Lord Chief Justice remains committed to the hardline approach to what he describes as “utterly shocking and wholly inexcusable” lawlessness.

“It’s simple. Those who deliberately participate in disturbances of this magnitude, causing injury and damage and fear to even the most stout-hearted of citizens…are committing aggravated crimes,” he said. “They must be punished accordingly and the sentences should be design to deter others from similar criminal activity.”

MORE: London Riots: How the Community of Croydon Consumed Itself

William Lee Adams is a staff writer at the London bureau of TIME. Find him on Twitter at @willyleeadams or on Facebook. You can also continue the discussion on TIME‘s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME