A YORK student of “exceptional promise” who joined in mob violence in London against Government spending cuts has been jailed and his university dreams shattered.

Francis Fernie, 20, threw two long sticks at police outside luxury store Fortnum & Mason as crowds of protesters hurled missiles at lines of officers in Piccadilly on March 26, vandalised shops and hotels, and occupied the store.

Fernie, of Filey Terrace, Clifton, had previously worked for a range of charities and good causes, including Oxfam, York Environment Centre, Snappy and the Brunswick Nursery, a gardening organisation for people with learning disabilities.

But he was yesterday given a 12-month prison sentence for his part in the riots.

Stephen Apted, prosecuting, told Kingston Crown Court the “very tense” atmosphere was caused by “splinter groups” among the 500,000 people who marched through central London in the generally peaceful TUC-organised “March for the Alternative”.

Fernie, a York College politics A-level student had, according to his barrister, Tom Stevens, a “social conscience”, and spent much of his life protecting the rights of others. He had hoped to be starting a science degree at Sheffield Hallam University.

Judge Nicholas Price QC told Fernie: “I have no doubt you came down from York to London with sincerely held views and with the initial intention of demonstrating peacefully.

“I have no doubt you were indeed caught up in the heat of the moment.”

The judge said the right to peaceful demonstration was a “hallmark” of this country’s democracy, but added: “The courts have a duty not only to punish those who inflict violence or acts of fear on the public or inflict violence on the police, but also to deter others from behaving in such a way.”

Fernie repeatedly wiped his eyes as he was jailed. He had pleaded guilty to violent disorder after handing himself in to police in Leeds following the national release of his face on a CCTV image.

The judge accepted other people far more involved in the violence had not been arrested.

Mr Stevens said Fernie, who works part-time for The Avalon Centre with vulnerable adults, travelled to London “to voice quite legitimately his displeasure at cuts he thought were illegitimate”.

But Mr Stevens said: “He found himself embroiled in a much more heated scenario, and it is fair to say he allowed his displeasure at what was going on, so far as cuts were concerned, and his passion for protecting the rights of others to get the better of him.” He had also had too much to drink.

Mr Stevens told the judge: “The young man you find before you today is a young man of exceptional promise.”

Mr Apted said Fernie travelled by coach with friends from York on March 26 and had something to eat.

Then, hearing of “something happening” at Fortnum & Mason, he made his way to Piccadilly.

Violence flared alongside peaceful rally

The March for the Alternative was organised on March 26 and saw about a quarter of a million people bring central London to a standstill.

Protesters, organised by the TUC, rallied against Government spending cuts, but trouble flared when a breakaway group clashed with police and attacked shops, banks and the Ritz Hotel.

More than 200 people were arrested, and 149 were charged within 48 hours of the march. A total of 145 people were arrested in connection with the trouble at Fortnum & Mason and others were arrested subsequently, after their pictures were distributed by police.

York Press: The Press - Comment

Student forced to learn a sad lesson

FRANCIS Fernie should have been looking forward to starting a university course in September. Instead, the York 20-year-old is beginning a 12-month jail sentence.

He pleaded guilty to violent disorder after throwing sticks at police when some demonstrators resorted to mob violence during a largely peaceful TUC-organised rally in London to protest about Government cuts.

This story is in many ways a tragedy.

Fernie, Kingston Crown Court heard, is a young man of good character and with a strong social conscience, who devoted much of his own time to helping vulnerable people.

An A-level student studying politics at York College at the time of the protest in March, he has done work for Oxfam, the Brunswick Organic Nursery, SNAPPY and the York Environment Centre.

He no doubt went down to that march in London with the best of intentions, to take part in a legitimate protest and raise concerns about the impact of cuts. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that. We in this country pride ourselves on our traditions of democracy, freedom of speech, and the right to lawful protest.

But at some point during the demonstration, Fernie crossed the line. Possibly under the influence of drink, he chose to resort to violence.

By doing that, he undermined everything he believed in. Social justice is achieved through argument, not mob rule.

Today he is paying the price. There is no satisfaction at all in that, but at least we hope he has learned a lesson.