Facebook users jailed for 4 years over 'riot that never was'

Perry Sutcliffe-Keenan, left, and Jordan Blackshaw both pleaded guilty to using Facebook in attempts to fuel riots.
Perry Sutcliffe-Keenan, left, and Jordan Blackshaw both pleaded guilty to using Facebook in attempts to fuel riots.Cheshire Police
/ Source: msnbc.com staff and news service reports

Two British men have been sentenced to four years in prison for trying to organize riots on Facebook, according to reports.

Jordan Blackshaw, 20, created an event called "Smash Down Northwich Town" on Aug. 8 as the worst unrest in 30 years spread across England, Britain's Daily Telegraph reported. Nobody showed up to the event except for police officers who arrested Blackshaw at the appointed meeting place outside a McDonalds restaurant, the Guardian reported.

Perry Sutcliffe-Keenan, 22, reportedly caused a wave of panic after posting a link to a page called "The Warrington Riots" on Facebook. No disorder occurred as a result of Sutcliffe-Keenan's actions. He apologized after removing the page from Facebook the next morning and claimed the event had been a joke, the Guardian reported.

However, the Guardian quoted a judge in Chester, northwest England, as saying Blackshaw had committed an "evil act."

"Your conduct was quite disgraceful and the title of the message you posted on Facebook chills the blood," Judge Elgan Edwards added.

It emerged Tuesday that British judges and magistrates have been advised to ignore regular sentencing guidelines and mete out harsher punishments when dealing with those found guilty of rioting.

Despite widespread anger over damage caused by looters and rioters, the tough sentences have provoked controversy.

"Facebook plotters jailed for riot that never was," read the front-page headline on Wednesday's Times newspaper.

Andrew Neilson, of the Howard League for Penal Reform, told Sky News: "The rush to send a message out is leading to some very bad sentences, which will be overturned on appeal."

He added that sentences "should reflect the seriousness of the offense".

Five people died during violence that ravaged English cities last week, including three men hit by a car in Birmingham, central England, 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.

Across the country, some 3,000 people have been arrested and about 1,400 of those charged with riot-related offenses.

Courts opened around-the-clock for several days to deal with the flood of suspects.

Rioting began in London Aug. 6 and spread to several other English cities. Police were criticized for responding too slowly, particularly in London, but eventually deployed huge numbers of officers at riot zones 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.