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Caergwrle teenagers spared jail after firebomb 'joke'

TWO Caergwrle teenagers who wrote ‘let’s firebomb Wrexham’ on Facebook at the height of the riots in England were simply stupid and immature, a judge said.

Thomas Hughes and Jack Johnston Lewis, both 19, had never had any intention to start a riot.

But their ‘bad joke’ which was in ‘extremely bad taste’ landed them with convictions and spells in jail, which had a profound effect on them and their families, magistrates in Flintshire heard yesterday.

The pair, Hughes of Hawarden Road, and Lewis of High Street, were initially charged with inciting a riot, even though none of their Facebook friends took them seriously and the one response was some humorous banter.

They were locked up for five weeks after the charge was made, but were later released on bail when the charge was dropped and replaced with an offence under The Telecommunications Act of sending a menacing message.

Lawyers for the two argued it would be cruel and unjust to send them back into custody at this stage.

District Judge Andrew Shaw said if he had been treating the case afresh then he would have sentenced them both to three months detention.

But they had already been to custody, they had been released on bail and attended court twice expecting to return to custody.

In the circumstances he placed them on a one month community order under which they will be tagged to remain indoors between 8pm and 8am for two weeks.

"I am sentencing you on the basis of immature and foolish comments rather than a serious attempt to incite a riot," he explained.

"While the comments were immature and stupid, the danger was they could have been picked up and run with by someone else in a completely different and more dramatic way."

Justin Espie, prosecuting, said national police intelligence officers had been monitoring social networking sites using key words such as ‘riot’ – and the Facebook sites of the defendants were highlighted.

Hughes had 1,333 Facebook friends and Lewis 893 who would have seen the comments.

They now had the chance to think about what they had done, they were sorry and regretted their actions.

Judge Shaw said he appreciated that the consequences for the defendants had been dramatic and they had already suffered a substantial penalty.

Timing was everything, because they had posted their comments ‘in the heat of the fire’, in the middle of a time when there was potential for far greater disorder, he said. But there was no disorder arising from their comments, and their friends on Facebook accepted them for what they were, a stupid and very bad joke.