Demonstrators who take part in mob violence were warned to expect “significant” sentences by judges yesterday as they rejected a plea by Pink Floyd guitarist David Gilmour’s son that a 16-month jail term imposed after he went on a drink and drug-fuelled rampage at a student fees protest was “unduly harsh”.
Three Court of Appeal judges ruled that the penalty handed out to 21-year-old Charlie Gilmour could not arguably be described as either “manifestly excessive or wrong in principle”. Lord Justice Hughes, sitting with two other judges in London, ruled that the sentence passed in July on the Cambridge University history student, of Billingshurst, West Sussex, “correctly took account both of the defendant’s serious and dangerous acts in this inflammatory context and of his normal character”.
He announced: “We do not believe that violence in this context and of the kind displayed by this defendant can normally be met by other than significant sentences of immediate custody even for those of otherwise good character.”
The judges pointed out that the law protects the right of people in this country to demonstrate – to “make known and in public their feelings on matters of public concern” – but to do so in large numbers “carries clear responsibilities, principally amongst them to act without disorder or violence which puts the public at risk”.
Lord Justice Hughes said: “It is an unavoidable feature of mass disorder that each individual act, whatever might be its character taken on its own, inflames and encourages others to behave similarly, and that the harm done to the public stems from the combined effect of what is done en masse.”
Gilmour, who admitted violent disorder after joining thousands demonstrating in London’s Trafalgar Square and Parliament Square last December, was seen hanging from a Union flag on the Cenotaph and leaping on to the bonnet of a car that formed part of a royal convoy.
He also kicked at the window of Topshop’s flagship store on Oxford Street and ended up in possession of the leg of a mannequin.
A judge at Kingston Crown Court, south-west London, concluded that Gilmour had thrown a rubbish bin at one of the convoy vehicles – a finding upheld by the appeal judges.
Lord Justice Hughes said his offence was committed in the course of “serious disorder which occurred in the later stages of what had begun as a generally peaceful demonstration against Government proposals relating to the funding of further education”.
There was, he said, “serious mob disorder”.
In Oxford Street there were “mass attacks on shops” and in Regent Street cars conveying the Prince of Wales, the Duchess of Cornwall and others to an evening public engagement were “surrounded and set upon by some elements of the throng”.