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26 September 2011, 11:24
A 19 year old who was spotted taking a photo while in the public gallery at Luton Crown Court has been sent to prison for two months.
Paul Thompson was watching proceedings on the afternoon of Friday 23 September 2011 when he got a message on his BlackBerry phone from a girl asking where he was.
The 19 year old thought he would take a snap of the courtroom to send to her, but sitting in front of him was the victim and some other police officers involved in the case he had been watching and one spotted what he had done.
The phone was seized and to his amazement the 19 year old found himself arrested. He was then taken down to the cells of the court.
An hour later was brought back into the dock to face a charge of contempt of court in front of Judge Barbara Mensah.
Paul admitted the charge and was stunned when a short while later Judge Mensah jailed him for two months.
A spokesman for the Howard League for Penal Reform, the oldest penal reform charity in the UK, said "Short spells in custody have been shown to be very ineffectual and they are a costly way of dealing with the issue. Young people are so used to using their phones like this these days and a little understanding of that by the court would not have resulted in a prison sentence.
"Also, and this was seen with the disproportionate sentencing following the riots, there is a degree to which it appears the justice system is not keeping pace with the change in technology."
A spokeswoman for the The Ministry of Justice said they don't comment on individual cases.
The teenager, who lives in Luton, had gone to to the court to show his support for a friend from Bedford facing a long custodial sentence for robbing an off duty police officer.
It was during the case that he got the call on his mobile from the girl.
After his arrest barrister John Livingstone was appointed to represent the teenager.
An hour later he was brought back into the court to hear Mr Livingstone say: "He told me he was being 'a dick', which I take to mean a stupid idiot.
"It was not a photograph of anyone in particular and he did not notice any signs forbidding this behaviour. This has been a very big shock for him."
He said Thompson was very concerned as he had left his eight week old puppy alone in his flat in Luton, which was not house trained and no one else had access to the property.
He said he had got the puppy, a "Staffy/Whippet cross" the day before and on the day of the court hearing it had been due to have it's injections.
But Judge Barbara Mensah told Thompson "There are notices all around the court building about not taking photographs in court. This is a serious offence and the message must go out that people cannot take photos."
As she jailed him for two months he said "That's stupid man".
Judge Mensah who sits at Luton Crown Court, became the first Circuit Judge of African origin when she was appointed to the South Eastern Circuit in December 2005. She was called to the Bar (Lincoln's Inn) in 1984 and was appointed as a Recorder in 2003.
A spokeswoman for the RSPCA said they had not been contacted by the police regarding Thompson's claims that he had left his puppy unattended back at his flat.