Coffee House

The danger of disproportionate sentences

26 August 2011

It’s great that hundreds of looters are being punished properly, and the police
are to be congratulated for working hard to find the thugs responsible for damage during the riots. But whilst it’s important to be tough, let’s also beware of completely 
ludicrous, perhaps counterproductive sentencing.

Today it was reported that a young
man called Anderson Fernandes has been jailed for 16 months for stealing an ice cream. He walked into an open ice cream store, prepared two scoops on a cone, took one lick, then passed it on to a
nearby woman because, he said, he didn’t like the coffee flavour. Is this really a crime that deserves a 16-month sentence? It’s true that Fernandes wasn’t a model citizen —
he’d had just appeared in court charged with possession of an offensive weapon and class A drugs. But the fact remains that he’s got over a year for stealing an ice-cream.

There are muggers doing less; rapists and murderers being released, in part due to over-crowding. Anderson didn’t actually break into the shop or cause any direct threat to the public. If he
has to be punished, what about community service? If jail sentences appear disproportionate, there is a real danger of further riots.

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Show comments
  • Jaime Ali

    Danielle, I think some people reading your blog have misunderstood that you are merely bringing parts of the taboo subject to life. You raise some key issues and interesting ones – just perhaps next time make it full of substance and depth. Articulate your thoughts more strategically and embrace the debate you raise.

  • Alex. B

    I think Danielle makes a good point that community service is a better option for offenders such as Anderson Fernandes as clearly, the threat of prison has no effect on his behaviour. Particularly when it is publicised that prisons are filling up and offenders of more serious crimes are being set free early.

  • Capn Flint

    Anderson Fernandes is a Brazilian name – is the looter Brazilian? If so, he should be deported after serving his sentence.

  • John Richardson

    Robin Gitte.

    It is only fair for you to be honest about your connection to the writer.

    So do tell.

    For my money, I’d guess she is your younger (18 or 19 years old) sister.

    My prize?

  • Andrew Webb

    As long as there is evil in the world, there will always be mobs. As long as there are liberal elites, mobs will always find reasons to get worked up. Mobs are all the same – destructive, left-wing and with no cause.

    Why did the looters tear apart cities, burn down businesses and steal consumer goods? Because the police shot someone? Pull the other one.

    What got up the noses of last rioters in Greece, Paris and Vancouver? They’re jobless? Their government benefits have been cut? Their hockey team lost?

    Why did black and Hispanic gang members loot after the Rodney King verdict? Los Angeles policemen have said that gangs they arrested didn’t know or give a stuff about Rodney King.

    Why did masked thugs smash Starbucks (a coffee house!) windows in Seattle a decade ago when some bankers came to town? Because they’re against the “global economy”? What does that even mean?

    Liberal elites love mobs because rioting and anarchy is their only path to power. Making sound proposals based on facts and logic is not their strong point.

    Liberals will support any mob that will increase their political power by promoting welfare dependency, class warfare, government programs staffed with public sector workers, street protests and coddling criminals. This is how they wish to create reliable voters.

    What voting bloc!

  • Capn Flint

    “He walked into an open ice cream store, prepared two scoops on a cone, took one lick, then passed it on to a nearby woman because, he said, he didn’t like the coffee flavour. Is this really a crime that deserves a 16-month sentence?”

    Yup. Next.

  • Andy

    “But the fact remains that he’s got over a year for stealing an ice-cream.”

    Whether he got six seeks or sixteen weeks does not invalidate the fact that undisputed prick got his just desserts. This about the spirit of things not the letter of the law.

  • Peter From Maidstone

    Dear Mr Gitte, thank you for your comments. Do you know Danielle? You write as someone who seems to know her. Are you able to tell us anything about her, since she and the Spectator seem unwilling to do so?

  • Robin Gitte

    These comments read like the minutes of an “I’m all right, Jack” convention.

    Harsh retribution might keep the genie in the gutter for a while, but it is unsustainable in the longer term (i.e. will fail) if the underlying issues are not resolved.

    Too much self satisfaction and too little intellect and empathy.

    Good article, Danielle!

  • William Blakes Ghost

    What is the Spectator thinking off allowing such ridiculous nonsense to be posted on Coffee House.

    Firstly Fernandes will either be serving 8 months or 5 months if he pleaded guilty. That is all our soft sentencing policy will allow. Secondly he will not be causing rapists and murderers to be released. The same crass sentencing policy will.

    Clearly Ms Lazarus needs a lesson in sentencing policy. Between 1970 and 1990 the prison population rose from just under 40,000 inmates to just under 45,000 inmates. Between 1990 and 2000 the Prison population rose to 66,000. Between 2000 and now it has risen to 86000. If you don’t believe me just check out the Parliamentary briefing notes on the topic and see the graph where the rate takes off in around 1993 (ironically when Ken Clarke was Home Secretary). Here is just one recent report (check out the graph on page 2)

    Between 1970 and 1990 sentencing policy was barely changed but additional measures (such a partially suspended sentences) were provided to the courts. Between 1990 and today successive governments have made the effective sentences of those imprisoned by the courts shorter: First by increasing the amount of remission from 33% to 50%, then by introducing Home Detention Curfews and thirdly by introducing discounts of a further 17% for pleading guilty.

    Now even a fool (but not those involved in the Criminal Justice System) would perhaps see how the Prison population has sky rocketed (and with it the crime rate for the first decade) since they started reducing effective sentences. So the obvious way to reduce the Prison population would be to scrap the measures that have created short sentences which everybody (including bleedin’ heart liberals) seems to agree do not work. Longer sentences seem to work fine before 1990. There is no reason why they wouldn’t work fine now as well.

    Now if proper sentences were once again restored poor little Fernandes would be serving 11 months (so an additional 3 months) but your average rapists (say serving a 6 year sentence would serve an additional 2 years). This is the other consideration by reducing effective sentences, as successive government have, by percentages in real terms it benefits those with longer sentences the most.

    So in response to Ms Lazarus the problem is not Fernandes and his appropriate sentence for someone indulging in criminal activities during a riot but that for decades those responsible for sentencing in this country have been derelict in their responsibilities and allowing criminals to get off lightly.

    And if anyone is wondering what managed to reduce the crime rate from its 6 million plus all time high in 2003/2004? Well during the noughties police numbers were increased by some 20,000. Of course now most of those numbers will be lost through government cuts. So from what I can see we will have the worst of all worlds with the Prison Population and the Crime Rate both rising rapidly…..

  • Paddy

    We’ve gone completely “soft” in England…..after 13 years of the Labour party.

    There’s less damage and looting in Tripoli. Plus they are all working together to get their communities back on track.

  • Ed P

    English law was originally devised to protect property, not people. So stealing an ice cream attracts a heavy sentence, compared with Baby Peter’s killer, who is out after serving only 2 years. Let’s hope he doesn’t steal or his next sentence could be really severe.

  • John Richardson


    Re-avoiding the Fee.

    Yes, do not have a television.

    As you yourself describe; the aimless anoying and sometimes dangerous ‘liberal/progressive’ rubbish on the television never informs and usually misleads. So do not have a TV.

    It works for me.
    After about two weeks you stop instinctivly looking for the TV set in your room.
    For the rest of your life you have the satisfaction of not paying a penny to Paxman and the rest of the army of mediocrities.


  • anyfool

    Mark Cannon asks, Why don’t journalists do any proper work?

    they are not journalists, they are a self serving group of middle class graduates who have all basically went along the same track, private school and uni topped off with a call to there friends already in the media. it shows in the scribblings in newspapers and the sneering tones of tv journos and presenters talking to themselves as though the viewers are not allowed a different opinion, there is no right or left wing they all write and speak the same drivel as the writer of this blog, at least this is free but the bbc forcibly steal your cash and dump there views on you without a hint of awareness of the sheer vacuity of most of their comment.

    does anyone know if there is a way of legally avoiding the license fee

  • George Laird

    Dear Alan Scott

    “I second Peter from Maidstone. Who is this Danielle Lazarus, and what qualifications has (presumably she, but you never know in blogland, do you) to write an article (as opposed to commenting on someone else’s article)?”

    Does that really matter? Under what circumstances would she be worthy to put pen to paper?

    The answer is any circumstance.

    She has been given an opportunity presumably by Fraser Nelson to establish herself, so let her stand or fall on her own merits.

    I don’t know her either but by the same token she doesn’t know me, I can live with it.

    “Can anyone put up a piece on Coffeehouse? If so, who examines the credentials of the writer?”

    No and Fraser Nelson I assume.

    “Congratulations and thanks to the contributor who linked us to that excellent Judge’s statement”.

    Finally in the interests of fairness, the punishment should fit the crime, in some cases, the sentences such as described re the ice cream are too excessive.

    People should look at this logically instead of allowing emotion to drive them.

    If we look at bankers, they have fraudulent ripped off this country for billions, they received bonuses.

    Was there much outrage from the political elite, Cameron etc etc?


    As to our ice cream licking ‘friend’, 300 hours of community service would be more appropriate for him.

    Think about this, for a lick of an ice cream, he will cost us about £40k to keep him locked up for a year.

    So, in effective we aren’t getting value for money.

    I suspect that Danielle Lazarus when penning her ditto possibly had that in mind, hopefully, but it is early days for her on the Spectator.

    I don’t like the way the piece was written because of the angle she used but I get the general jist of it.

    And let us be kind, and let us judge her by a volume of work so we see how the wheels turn.

    Yours sincerely

    George Laird
    The Campaign for Human Rights at Glasgow University

  • WetherspoonThree

    Whilst the heavier sentences are welcome, we will only know that the government is taking law and order seriously when it announces plans to increase substantially the number of places available by building more prisons.
    There is no alternative. A government which fails to protect its citizens has no legitimacy.

  • denis cooper

    I think Danielle should tell us something about herself.

    Is she really just a silly chit of a girl, whose adolescent views on criminal justice might undergo a sudden and radical transformation if she ever met this less than model citizen in a dark alley one night, or does she actually have some experience of adult life on which to base her foolish article?

    Meanwhile, even though it doesn’t deal with this specific case, I strongly recommend that she and others of her mind read the report of the sentencing remarks from the Honorary Recorder of Manchester, referenced by Mark Cannon above:

    And especially this paragraph:

    “Any participation whatsoever of whatever duration in the criminal activities of that night in Manchester City Centre or in Salford, irrespective of its precise form, derives its gravity because it was carried on by one of those who by sheer weight of numbers subjected the commercial areas to a sustained onslaught of burglary, robbery, theft, disorder and other related offences. Anyone on the streets that night who took part in crime added to the effects of the overall criminality, and hampered the efforts of the Police to bring it under control, and of the owners and operators of those businesses trying to protect them.”

    Finally I’d point out that

    a) It is open to this less than model citizen, if he is indeed a citizen, to appeal against his sentence; but

    b) If he’s convicted on the previous charges of “possession of an offensive weapon and class A drugs” then he’ll probably get a longer sentence running concurrently, not consecutively, with this sentence.

  • Peter From Maidstone

    Can I ask again, who is Danielle Lazarus, and with what qualification or authority is she writing on this subject or on any subject?

  • Al Faturd


    “It seems that there are far too many who confuse revenge for [sic] justice.”

    It seems that there is one whose grasp of the English language is barely more reliable than the common-room moral theory that he/she purveys.

  • Jane

    The Sentencing Guidelines clearly advises Judges of what aggravating and mitigating circumstances should be taken into account when sentencing. In addition, sentences have always been harsher in my lifetime when they have been committed in groups and include looting or riot. Indeed, riot is treated most severely and those involved have alway received lengthy prison sentences.

    I prefer to know all the circumstances surrounding the offence which are not known to me. The number of previous convictions, disposal, fear caused to others by the act as well as the need for a deterrant sentence. It is not appropriate to associate the sentence with the act in these circumstances so you argument is flawed.

  • oldtimer

    Shortly after the riots, someone said that the size of the police service is predicated on the belief that most citizens are law abiding and do not resort to rioting, looting and arson when the opportunity is there. That belief was put in question for several days.

    It needs to be restored. Hunting down the offenders, even if it does take two years, and handing out exemplary sentences are necessary steps to restoring that belief. Otherwise the country will finish up looking like one of the most disagreeable places I have ever visited – Guayaquil in Ecuador, where just about every other property had a guard armed with a sub-machine gun. Take your pick.

  • YorkshireLad

    “If jail sentences appear disproportionate, there is a real danger of further riots. “

    I disagee…there will, however be the message that the sentences will act as a deterrent. Something that has been sadly lacking in sentencing policy over the last 3 decades.

  • Nicholas

    He wasn’t just stealing an ice cream – he was part of a violent mob that smashed its way into shops and looted them. The same mob that attacked police and innocent bystanders and set fire to cars and buildings. The idea that one group did all the smashing and others who “just happened to be there” did the grabbing is ludicrous.


  • Holly ……

    Like the judge said,’Tougher than usual sentences will be handed down because of the backdrop to the CRIMES’.

    These ‘upstanding’ citizens were just out for what they could get.
    No sympathy.

    The frightened bystanders didn’t rob, steal or smash stuff, so what is so special about the opportunistic smart arses?

    The law is the law…Even for first offenders, who used the chaos to become law breakers.

  • Alan Scott

    I second Peter from Maidstone. Who is this Danielle Lazarus, and what qualifications has (presumably she, but you never know in blogland, do you)to write an article (as opposed to commenting on someone else’s article)?
    Can anyone put up a piece on Coffeehouse? If so, who examines the credentials of the writer?
    Congratulations and thanks to the contributor who linked us to that excellent Judge’s statement.

  • Tommo

    Sixteen months was a ludicrous sentence: it should have been five years at least without any prospect of early release, as should be the case for any offence involving violence or dishonesty.

    The left can shake their smug liberal heads as much as they like, but their approach has been tried and has, on any analysis, completely failed. Time to get back to a system that the wrongdoers will genuinely fear.

  • Andrew Fletcher

    It is completely ludicrous unless there was a sudden increase in sentences for other more serious non riot offences (which seems unlikely)
    It makes the law look “an ass” and that is very dangerous
    Improve your personal and domestic security, stay away from the inner cities and get your tax affairs in order so you don’t feel you are subsidising the underclass lifestyle (sad but true)

  • reg

    Anderson Fernandes
    He is aged 21 and pleaded Guilty to Burglary at the bakery, Patiserrie Valerie. He had been in the Manchester to attend a hearing at the Magistrates’ Court and stayed in the city
    centre when he saw the disorder developing. He found himself in St Annes’s Square and went into the bakery which had been broken into by others. He helped himself to an ice cream and thought about handing out cones to the crowd.
    He also pleaded Guilty to Handling a Dyson vacuum cleaner which was found still in its box at his home. This is unrelated to the current disorder.
    He has previous convictions, Violent Disorder in April 2009 for which he received a Community Order which he breached in July 2009. Common Assault and Assault S47 in February 2010 for which he received another Community Order which he breached in May 2010.
    The offence itself is at the lower end of the range in terms of gravity but his position is aggravated by his previous convictions. I can find no reason to go below the 2 year starting point in his case. The appropriate sentence therefore is 16 months for the offence of burglary. There will be a concurrent sentence of 3 months for the offence of handling the vacuum cleaner. He will have 9 days credit for his time on remand.

    This quote is from the judges sentencing remarks

  • TomTom

    Transportation to the Colonies is the answer – America or Australia like in the good old days when England feared popular uprising

  • Jimmy R

    So if I go out with a friend to commit burglary and he is the one who forces the door open which I then just walk through he is a burglar and I’m not? Then whilst we are checking round the place he picks up ten grands worth of jewelery and I only manage to find a tenner I should not be treated as harshly as him because I didn’t walk out with as much property?

    Sorry but the rioter and ice cream thief is guilty of just as serious offence as a rioter who in a different premises steals . of a greater value.

    One thing which has not been mentioned is the extent, if any, of his previous convictions which can also make a great difference to any sentence passed.

  • Baron

    RMH chips in with rightful indignation of the one who knows best: “Kneejerk – the reserve of the right wing red tops”.

    So tell us then, if you would be so kind, what would you do, ha?

    Would you ask him to pay for the ice-cream, let him go, appoint an outreach worker, or two, and a psychologist, and a human behaviour specialist, and someone who would counsel the riot, ice-cream lover, spend time, money on him, telling him stealing ain’t on and stuff? Would you?

    Well, sir, we’ve tried that over and over again, you look around, it seems it doesn’t work, it will never work, trust Baron, he knows, he’s looked it up.

  • David Ossitt

    “Today it was reported that a young man called Anderson Fernandes has been jailed for 16 months for stealing an ice cream.”

    Wrong; Anderson Fernandes was gaoled for looting during which he stole an ice cream, he has previous and had he been given proper punishment in the past, he might well have learn’t his lesson.

    Looting is looting whatever the theft.

  • Jez

    “It’s true that Fernandes wasn’t a model citizen — he’d had just appeared in court charged with possession of an offensive weapon and class A drugs.”

    F*ck him.

    And about the muggers & rapists getting the same (or less), use this frustration to lobby for ‘MORE’ hard time guaranteed to violent robbery and sexual attacks.

    That’s the problem with this society.

    Everything is brought down to the lowest denominator, instead of striving to set precedents;

    It’s what got us into this sh*t in the first place.

  • ndm

    It seems that there are far too many who confuse revenge for justice. That this rot is fed from the top demonstrates the moral failure of the Government. There should be no place in the justice system for a politician to weigh down the scales of justice.

  • Clear Memories

    There seems one obvious danger of disproportionate sentences from the lefty liberal standpoint.

    Removing sufficient scum from the streets might just lead to a clear and unarguable drop in crime levels, causing a subsequent demand from the reasonable and law-abiding that the anti-social, feral dross that spoil our lives are removed for longer periods. And that, if they are not, the obvious answer will be to remove them ourselves on a permanent basis.

  • Baron

    Danielle, listen, three components of sentencing make for a law abiding society: retribution, deterrence, rehabilitation. The young man you’re referring to has obviously fell the rehabilitation part of his former sentence, or sentences, he committed another offence, he hasn’t obviously felt the retributive element either, no pain must have attached to his former punishment, he participated in another crime, and as for a deterrent? Baron would have gone for five years minimum, no parole, country wide publicity under the heading ‘you take part in a riot, steal an ice cream, you get five years’.

    you would be amazed how quickly would that news spread amongst those thinking of rioting, stealing ice-creams, or worse, within a couple of years the Government could lease many today’s prisons for discos and stuff.

  • Old Slaughter

    “There are muggers doing less; rapists and murderers being released, in part due to over-crowding.”

    This is an argument for longer sentences for muggers and rapists, not for lesser one for looters.

    Why is this not clear yet?

  • RCE

    Yup. 16 months is about right. It’s the pathetic leniency so common to other sentences that is wrong.

    I know it is a tricky notion in this relativist and debased age, but the idea is that a punishment serves as a deterrent to other crimes, you see?

    (I am presuming, Danielle, that yours is a genuine post and not merely an attempt to throw bait ahead of the Bank Holiday).

  • Peter From Maidstone

    Who is Danielle Lazarus?

    Danielle, people should be sentenced for breaking the law, not because they caused a direct threat to the public. In fact this sort of criminal behaviour is a direct threat to our society. He did not just steal an ice cream, he participated in an anti-society riot, and therefore society is entirely justified in putting him in prison.

    If there are more riots because criminals don’t like being sent to prison then I am sure that society will wish for future rioters to be dealt with in the same, and even a more strict, manner until they realise that they will not be allowed to act in this way.

    Which other criminals should be invited to threaten the justice system with the prospect of violence?

  • adrian drummond


    They would not appear disproportionate if other more grevious offences were given appropriate sentencing.

  • Sir Everard Digby

    Why is sentencing a repeat offender ‘ludicrous’ ? By your own admission he has committed previous offences but does not appear to have been punished for them? Certainly he was not deterred from re -offending.

    In which case what do you suggest? More of the same. I doubt the judgement against him looked at this single incident. Perhaps he will learn a lesson.

  • Mr. Bubbles

    On the contrary, if they’re ‘disproportionate’ (i.e. ‘tough’), then maybe they’ll think twice before riotiing again, eh? I imagine many of those going to jail for minor rioting related offences bitterly regret having taken part now.

    As for ‘there are muggers doing less’ etc., well, the answer is obviously to toughen up sentences for those offences.

  • Axstane

    Judges have to take into account the previous record of offenders when sentencing. A person who is possession of Class A drugs and and an offensive weapon is very dangerous to society.

    Unless you have read the judge’s decison it is not possible to decide whether it was proportionate or not.

    The fact that prisoners are being released due to overcrowding has no bearing on the merits of this or any other case.

  • potager

    You are conveniently forgetting why the shop was’open’.A riot was in progress and this man took advantage of the opportunity to help himself.
    Your last sentence suggests that appeasement works to prevent thuggery-just take a look at what history tells us.

  • RMH

    Kneejerk – the reserve of the right wing red tops

  • Mark Cannon

    Why don’t journalists do any proper work? To see why the sentences being handed down are higher than the usual tariff please see:

    Please do not pontificate again without having investigated.

  • toco

    Danielle I am hoping this was your first day on work experience!Learn to be careful about making sweeping statements before jumping to dangerous conclusions.For example if someone enters an establishment with a gun,knife or similar offensive weapon and steals an ice cream then 16 months seems perfectly reasonable.

  • JohnBUK

    Danielle, comparing this sentence with “muggers and rapists getting less” is not the correct way to look at it. More than a few on this site would suggest the riot problem occurred because of lenient or no sentences in the past. Indeed your comment that our poor ice-cream licker had “previous” seems to suggest he treated the threat of justice rather lightly.

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