Light has been shed on what some are seeing as disproportionate sentencing and custody following the rioting two weeks ago. The Guardian's got hold of the Met's "prisoner processing strategy" which law firm Hodge, Jones & Allen say amounts to a decision on a policy of mass imprisonment.
The document suggests some handy wording for officers to use when hauling prisoners up before magistrates:
Since Saturday the 6th of August 2011 there have been significant incidents of public disorder in and around the London area... There is significant public interest in the criminal activities connected to the disorder and a responsibility on the police and prosecutors alike to progress offences expeditiously...
Cautions and other means of judicial disposal are not considered appropriate in this case... A strategic decision has been made by the MPS that, in all cases an application will be made for remand in custody.
The document also talks about applying the "threshold test" for charging suspects; this is a process where the burden of proof needed to hold someone in custody can be lowered where there's reasonable expectation of a conviction.
This goes a long way to explaining why so many cases connected to the looting and riots have seen harsher than usual treatment (the guy given six months for stealing £3.50 worth of bottled water has become the standard touchstone for this point), and lawyers say the Met's decision to apply a blanket ban on cautions and bail may be unlawful. Expect to see many appeals in the weeks and months ahead.
It's hard not to feel sympathy with the Met on the grounds that, faced with such an overwhelming amount of crime, they clearly felt the need to come down hard. But where's the gain in sending a load of people into the already creaking jail system - not to mention the possibility that a lowered burden of proof could mean they get the wrong person, as has happened in Manchester?
Scotland Yard says 3,296 disorder-linked offences have been reported (the Daily Mail reckons 30,000 people were involved in London, though we're not sure how they get that number). So far, 1,838 people have been arrested and 1,049 charged; police have about 20,000 hours of CCTV footage to plough through so the number of looters identified is likely to rise. Given that the threat of more looting has receded, could the Met pull back from its punitive line on custody or would that just give more grounds for appeal for those already charged?