The harsh sentences handed to people who have taken part in the riots that swept the country last week- such as the 6 months for stealing a water bottle and 4 years for setting up a Facebook page to encourage rioting*- are in the main justified.
The comparison with other offenders who have stolen greater amounts and received much lower sentences is misleading- the fact that the crimes were part of a much larger picture- nationwide riots- is a huge aggravating factor. Simply by participating in a small way they were spreading fear among millions of people and enabling more destructive criminals to commit their crimes in the ensuing chaos- crimes such as murder, rape and arson.
Riots create a situation where the strong prey upon the weak- they can destroy communities (see the decline of many of Northern cities in the USA, such as Detroit & Newark, after the race riots of the 1960s). They can lead to mass bloodshed.Therefore the legal system needs to punish them to the full extent of the law.
Last week the predators felt little fear of punishment as they looted without covering their faces and set up Facebook pages under their own names. Right now those predators who used chaos to terrorise their neighbours and enrich themselves with stolen goods are feeling some of the same fear that they inspired in others, as they know that if their mug is on a CCTV camera or stolen goods are traced to them they will lose their liberty. This is a very good thing in my view.
* I am assuming that the Facebook page was a serious attempt to incite a riot, not a woefully misconceived prank.