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Police charge teen with London riots murder

A 16-year-old boy was ordered to stand trial for the murder of a retiree attacked when he confronted rioters in London, as British judges used tough tactics against alleged participants in the mayhem.
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/ Source: msnbc.com staff and news service reports

A 16-year-old boy was ordered Tuesday to stand trial for the murder of a retiree attacked when he confronted rioters in London, as British judges and prosecutors used tough punishment and name-and-shame tactics against hundreds of alleged participants in the mayhem.

The government said police would get better training and stronger powers to deal with a new and unpredictable era of street disturbances.

"We will make sure police have the powers they need," said Home Secretary Theresa May — including, she suggested, the power to impose blanket curfews in troubled areas.

A teenager, who has not been named because of his age, appeared in court Tuesday accused of killing 68-year-old Richard Bowes, who was found lying in a street during violence in Ealing, west London, on Aug. 8.

CCTV footage captured Bowes being punched and falling to the pavement after he tried to stamp out a fire set by rioters. He died of head injuries three days later.

The suspect, dressed in a black shirt and with his arms crossed, was charged with murder, violent disorder and the burglary of a bookmakers, a supermarket, a video store and a restaurant.

He did not enter a plea and was ordered detained as he awaits trial at the Central Criminal Court.

The boy's 31-year-old mother has been charged with obstructing the police investigation. She also was denied bail.

Police have arrested more than 3,000 people over riots that erupted Aug. 6 in north London and flared for four nights across the capital and other English cities.

And about 1,400 have been charged with riot-related offenses. More than 1,200 have appeared in court — often in chaotic, round-the clock-sessions dispensing justice that is swifter, and harsher, than usual.

Tougher sentences

Meanwhile it emerged Tuesday that

British law enforcement officials have been advised to ignore regular sentencing guidelines and mete out harsher punishments when dealing with those found guilty of rioting.

The stepped-up guidelines issued by the country's prosecution service explain why some of those found to have been involved in the outbursts that swept Britain have received more punitive sentences than normal, .

For example, one mother-of-two was sent to jail for five months after being caught with a pair of shorts that had been stolen earlier, the newspaper reported. A 23-year-old was imprisoned for six months after stealing water worth $5.70 from a supermarket.

The new guidance for Her Majesty's Courts and Tribunals Service emerged after an official in south London said her court had been given guidelines that those involved in rioting should be sent to prison, the newspaper reported.

The police and judicial system have come under intense pressure to deal harshly with those found to have been involved in the violence.

Nevertheless, the courts and tribunals service denied that there had been any political meddling in the country's courts.

"Sentencing is a matter for the independent judiciary," a spokeswoman told msnbc.com. "Magistrates in London are being advised by their legal advisers to consider whether their powers of punishment are sufficient in dealing with some cases arising from the recent disorder."

Five people died during the violence that ravaged English cities last week, including three men hit by a car in Birmingham as they protected local shops from looters. Two men and a teenage boy have been charged with murdering Haroon Jahan, 20, and brothers Shazad Ali, 30, and Abdul Musavir, 31.

Several suspects have been questioned about the death of a man who was shot in the head during rioting in south London.

Police under pressure
Police also seemed to be heeding calls for harsher measures to crack down on violence that often spread via social networking when authorities announced on Twitter that they were charging a man for organizing a water fight on his BlackBerry.

Residents of Essex, outside of London, were informed that police were "working to keep the county safe" when they said the 20-year-old man "who allegedly sent messages from a BlackBerry encouraging people to join in a water fight has been charged with encouraging or assisting in the commission of an indictable offence under the Serious Crime Act 2007."

Prime Minister David Cameron, meanwhile, has said that the government will crack down on people using sites like Facebook and Twitter to further violence.

"When people are using social media for violence we need to stop them," he said in a speech to Parliament in the wake of the violence.

Police have been criticized for responding to the riots too slowly, particularly in London. Eventually they deployed huge numbers of officers to quell the mayhem.

Police said they would keep up an expanded presence on the streets of London over the coming days, although the force didn't give a detailed breakdown. Scotland Yard said many of the additional officers would be assigned to hunt those involved in the riots.

Many senior police officers feel stung by government criticism of their handling of the riots, and oppose plans to slash police budgets as part of sweeping austerity measures.

Britain's public service broadcaster the BBC also felt the sting of criticism after a prominent historian and commentator said during a discussion of the riots that "whites have become black."

The BBC received nearly 700 complaints after David Starkey's comments and online campaign organization gopetition.com attracted thousands of signatures demanding that the historian and the BBC apologize.

Starkey also said that "... this Jamaican patois that's been intruded in England, and this is why so many of us have this sense of literally a foreign country."

On Monday, Cameron pledged to deliver a raft of new policies aimed at reversing the "slow-motion moral collapse" which he blamed for fostering the disorder.

Cameron insisted that racial tensions, poverty and the government's austerity measures — much of which have yet to bite — were not the primary causes of the riots across London and other major cities.

Instead, Cameron pointed to gang-related crime, and a widespread failure from Britain's leaders to address deep-rooted social issues, including the country's generous welfare system.

Cameron pledged to end a culture of timidity in discussing family breakdown or poor parenting, or in criticizing those who fail to set a good example to their children or community.

"We have been too unwilling for too long to talk about what is right and what is wrong," Cameron said. "We have too often avoided saying what needs to be said, about everything from marriage to welfare to common courtesy."