Judge slams CPS over its handling of riot cases

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Staff reporter

A SENIOR judge dealing with Wrexham defendants has criticised the Crown Prosecution Service for its handling of cases after last month’s riots.

In an article in a Sunday newspaper Britain’s leading prosecutor appeared to criticise the harshness of sentences imposed by judges on some rioters.

But the CPS has now come under fire itself. Judge Merfyn Hughes QC, speaking at Caernarfon Crown Court, said the CPS was bringing serious charges to the crown court which it abandoned almost immediately.

The judge made his comments after the prosecution dropped the case against two teenagers accused of encouraging a riot using Facebook.

A lesser offence which can only be dealt with at the magistrates’ court was instead put to Thomas Hughes, 19, of Hawarden Road and Jack Johnston Lewis, 18, High Street, both Caergwrle.

They then pleaded guilty to an August 9 Communications Act offence of sending a message by means of a public communications network that was grossly offensive or menacing.

A month ago Judge Hughes had remanded them in custody on the more serious charge of encouraging the commission of an indictable offence – a riot.

He released them on bail for reports and they will be sentenced by a district judge tomorrow.

But the judge told them: “You must understand you are facing a custodial sentence.”

The Director of Public Prosecutions, Keir Starmer, had claimed that those involved in last month’s riots should not be regarded as a “separate category” or dealt with differently. He insisted he was not criticising sentences for rioters.

Judge Hughes queried why on September 19 the CPS had indicated it planned to pursue the original allegation but two days later wrote a second letter saying it was not proceeding with it. “Why has it taken so long for a decision to be taken in this case?”

Gareth Parry, prosecuting, said the case had been reviewed by senior CPS lawyers after they received a full file from the police.

Judge Hughes added: “What concerns me is on August 19 the CPS were pursuing a very serious indictable-only offence of inciting people to riot.

“It also concerns me that the Director of Public Prosecutions has appeared in a Sunday newspaper, appearing to criticise the judiciary for the harshness of some of their sentences and at the same time prosecutors are bringing cases to the crown court under the Serious Crimes Act 2007, which they are thereafter almost immediately abandoning.”

Hughes and Johnston Lewis had been bailed by magistrates but at a preliminary hearing when the case reached the crown court, Judge Hughes remanded them in custody.

Defence lawyers had applied unsuccessfully for bail to be renewed. Brian Jackson, defending Lewis, had on that occasion described the case against his client as ‘weak’. He said: “This was a gross overreaction by the police.”

See full story in the Leader

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