London Riots – Gordon Thompson – What Does His Sentence Actually Mean?


Gordon Thompson, the man who set alight the House of Reeves furniture store in last summer’s riots was sentenced to a prison sentence of 11 years and 6 months years at the Old Bailey on Wednesday 11th April 2011. When sentencing the Judge commented “the loss [for the Reeves family] was priceless and the trauma they have suffered inestimable”.  The Judge went on to say that it was, “extremely good fortune… that nobody died or was seriously injured”

The sentence is the longest that has been imposed in the rioting cases. Whether it was too long or even too short is perhaps a matter for public debate, but what does the sentence actually mean?

Under the provisions of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 any adult who is sentenced to a fixed term of imprisonment for an offence committed after 1st April 2005 is automatically released on licence at the half-way point of the sentence, which in Mr. Thompson’s case will be after he has served 5 years 9 months. They will then remain on licence for the remainder of the period.

If a person has spent time in prison on remand or has been subject to bail with a condition to comply with a curfew monitored by an electronic tag, before he or she is sentenced it is invariably the case that the sentencing Judge will allow for this time to be deducted from custodial sentence. The Judge will deduct one day from the time to be served for each day spent remanded in custody prior to sentence and half a day for each day spent on a tag-monitored curfew, provided that the curfew condition was for 9 hours or more.

For example a person who receives a sentence of, for example, 10 years and has been remanded in custody for 1 year before being sentenced will be automatically released after serving a total of 4 years in prison; that being half of the 10 year sentence less the 1 year spent on remand.  If the same person had spent 1 year on a qualifying curfew he or she would be released automatically having been in prison for 4 years 6 months; that being half of the sentence less 6 months being half of the time spent on curfew.

When a person is released they will be subject to licence for the second half of the sentence (as long as the sentence imposed was for 12 months or more).  In simple terms being on licence means that the person who is released must be of good behavior and must comply with any licence condition imposed by the Probation Service. Such conditions may include details of where they should live, the type of work he or she may do and with whom he or she may associate.

If a person breaches any of their licence conditions or are suspected to commit another offence during the period of the licence, then they can be liable to be recalled to prison. How long they remain in prison depends on the type of recall.  In practice it is usual for a first breach of licence to be dealt with by way of a fixed term recall to prison for 28 days, but if the breach is deemed to be serious or is a second breach the person is liable to remain in custody until the end of the sentence or until the Parole Board or Secretary of State direct that they can be re-released on licence once again.

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