x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

UK millionaire's daughter on trial for looting in London riots

Laura Johnson, 20, a languages student at Exeter University, was stopped by police in a retail park in south London last August.

LONDON // The undergraduate daughter of a millionaire businessman has gone on trial in London accused of looting electrical goods, alcohol and cigarettes during riots last summer.

Laura Johnson, 20, a languages student at Exeter University, was stopped by police in a retail park in south London last August. She had three youths in her car along with £6,000-worth (Dh35,000) of stolen goods. Officers had to smash the windscreen in her vehicle when she tried to drive off to avoid arrest.

Ms Johnson, who was 19 at the time and whose parents run their own direct marketing company, was one of about 3,100 people arrested - more than 2,000 in London alone - after riots broke out in several English cities between August 6-11 after police shot dead Mark Duggan, a black man, in Tottenham, north London. Duggan, who was suspected of carrying a gun, turned out to be unarmed.

Ms Johnson, who denies three charges of burglary, was seen putting boxes of stolen goods in the front seat of her car as she taxied the looters around, a court heard.

Following her arrest, Ms Johnson claimed she had been forced to drive the three around after they had jumped into her car and intimidated her with talk of a gun and a stabbing, while one of them had played footage on his mobile phone of someone being tortured.

But the prosecutor Sandy Canavan told the jury at the start of the case on Monday afternoon: "The prosecution say that any talk of duress is no more than a red herring in this case.

"This is a young lady who exercised extraordinarily bad judgment that night. She knew what she was doing. She did it for whatever reason seemed good to her at the time, but not under duress."

Ms Canavan said Raymond Johnson, who is not related to Ms Johnson, was driving past a large retail park in Greenwich when he saw people running to and from various stores carrying stolen items.

He saw a man run from Currys electrical store with a box bearing the Goodmans name. He threw it into a bush before running back to the store. "The white female driver of the car - we say that's Ms Johnson - went over, picked up the Goodmans box and put it in the front seat of her car," said Ms Canavan.

Mr Johnson called the police as he watched three young black men "running backwards and forwards to the car, putting things in it". He took a picture on his phone and Johnson did not seem particularly distressed, Ms Canavan said.

The jury was told that Ms Johnson was arrested but only later told police that she had been forced to drive around the looters, two of whom have already admitted charges of burglary.

"The prosecution say, if what you are saying is true, the time to have said it is when you were safely with the police. Getting out and helping yourself to the Goodmans box discarded by one of the other individuals is hardly the action of someone who is being forced to drive around," Ms Canavan said.

The case will continue tomorrow.

dsapsted@thenational.ae