Before they started appearing in court, most people assumed London’s rioters and looters were unemployed youths with no hope and no future.
So there was much surprise when details of the accused began to emerge, and they included some from wealthy backgrounds or with good jobs.
Those passing through London’s courtrooms on Tuesday and Wednesday — some courts sat overnight to cope with the numbers — have included a teaching assistant, a lifeguard, a postman, a chef, a charity worker, a millionaire’s daughter and an 11-year-old boy, newspapers reported.
The tabloid Sun newspaper wrote in its opinion page on Thursday of the “sick” society described by Prime Minister David Cameron: “The sickness starts on welfare-addicted estates where feckless parents let children run wild.”
But its front-page headline told a different story about the accused: “Lifeguard, postman, hairdresser, teacher, millionaire’s daughter, chef and schoolboy, 11.”
The Daily Mail reported: “While the trouble has been largely blamed on feral teenagers, many of those paraded before the courts yesterday led apparently respectable lives.”
The upmarket Daily Telegraph devoted its page three to the case of Laura Johnson, the 19-year-old daughter of a company director who pleaded not guilty to stealing £5,000 ($8,000) of electrical goods, under the headline: “Girl who has it all is accused of theft.”
The newspaper said she lived in a converted farmhouse in the leafy London suburb of Orpington, Kent, with extensive grounds and a tennis court, had studied at one of the best-performing state schools in the country and now attends the University of Exeter.
Reporter Andrew Gilligan wrote in the Daily Telegraph: “Here in court, as David Cameron condemned the ‘sickness’ in parts of British society, we saw clearly, for the first time, the face of the riot: stripped of its hoods and masks, dressed in white prison T-shirts and handcuffed to burly security guards.
“It was rather different from the one we had been expecting.”
He added of the defendants at Highbury Magistrates Court in north London: “Most were teenagers or in their early twenties, but a surprising number were older.
“Most interestingly of all, they were predominantly white, and many had jobs.”