Don’t do the crime if you can’t do the time is unbeatable street philosophy, which crossed the Atlantic to here several decades ago.
But the pendulum in some of the prison sentences being handed out after London’s recent riots does seem to have swung too far in the direction of the latter day hang-em and flog-em brigade.
Four years for inciting a riot on Facebook - which never happened or ever likely to -is tough compared to the two years and eight months received by the protester who dropped a fire extinguisher from the roof of the Tory HQ in the student fees demonstration.
Stiff sentences handed out to looters look harsh against the three to four months (with good behaviour) served by the ex-MPs who fiddled thousands on their expenses.
But I hesitate to join dissenters who are rejecting the severity of the punishments out of hand. The four year prison terms to nine white youths arrested during the 1958 Notting Hill race riots sent out the clear message that attacks on London’s Caribbean community would not be tolerated.
Racial tension in the West London area had been increasingly exploited by the far right until a mob – many dressed as Teddy Boys - began assaulting West Indians and attacking their property in a week of disturbances in the late summer of that year.
The prison terms were intended to be a deterrent – and they worked. The Notting Hill Carnival, due in a couple of weeks, owes its origin to the positive response by locals in the wake of the riots.
So, yes, magistrates and judges must make it clear that the country will not stand for the disorder, the looting, arson, and loss of life we witnessed earlier this month.
I understand that crimes committed during general disorder are of a more serious nature than those perpetrated in isolation, but I worry about reports that sentencing guidelines have been abandoned.
In the cause of preserving the values we hold dear, the judiciary needs to be seen to be acting fairly and where punishments may have exceeded the scale of the crimes, appeals must be allowed.