Why no hue and cry?

Posted on November 7, 2011


Today I read with horror an article by Omar Ibrahim in the Guardian.  He starts with the following: ‘By the time you read this, I’ll be in jail. I have hurt no one, offended no one, threatened nobody, and yet I am in prison for 18 months.’

His crime?  Participating in a trade union demonstration earlier in the year in London and throwing something which he found in the street. According to Ibrahim he threw a joke smoke bomb of the kind bought in joke shops, lamely towards a high street shop. It didn’t do any damage or hit anyone.  But it landed him a charge of violent disorder.

As Ibrahim freely admits, his actions were foolish – very foolish indeed.  But do they deserve 18 months in jail?  I am so horrified by his story I hardly know what to do with myself. Ibrahim goes on to assert that he is only the first in a long line of demonstrators who were arrested that day and that each of them will be prosecuted for violent disorder or similar offences.  Without knowing the detail of his case, or indeed others, I do however recall that the trade union protests were not particularly remarked upon for being violent.

He argues that his case is part of a wider pattern of  prosecutions and the sentences being stiffened to politically police protest movements.  It is very difficult to consider this claim of course without more evidence, yet we already know that harsher sentences were handed out to UK rioters.  If his assertion proves to be so, why is there no hue and cry about this excess of sentencing?

Meanwhile, a former government minister Elliot Morley was recently released from jail having served four months for fiddling his parliamentary expenses – in fact thirty thousand pounds worth.  So, someone who is meant to uphold the highest standards in society is let out of jail after only four months following persistent and quite prolonged stealing from the public purse, while another, caught up in the heat of the moment, behaves stupidly and recklessly and receives 18 months in jail.

It constantly amazes me the way in people turn their backs on someone who has been found guilty of a crime of disorder without any sense of proportionality and yet they are just as likely to shrug their shoulders at the latest tale of corporate greed.

Ibrahim’s article has attracted over 300 comments. Most of them appear to be damning of this man’s experience, and many have had to be removed by the moderator.

I fear for our society when minor public disorder offences are punished with such greater severity than stealing, or even the violent crimes against women and children in homes right around the country.  People’s willingness to metaphorically stone perpetrators of public disorder and yet stand idly by while their own futures are pillaged is just astounding.  It takes my breath away.