Picking up a woman’s dog and running off with it. Asking people late at night if they want to die. Storming into someone’s home uninvited. The case of Bacari-Bronze O’Garro, also known as “Mizzy”, an 18-year-old boy chasing social media fame by “pranking” unsuspecting members of the public, says a lot about the state of modern Britain.
Yet the best our justice system could manage – even after a widespread public outcry as he racked up millions of TikTok views for bad behaviour – was to arrest him on suspicion of causing a public nuisance. He was charged with failing to comply with a community protection notice, which stipulated that he mustn’t trespass onto private property.
Some might wonder why other potential offences were not applied. The truth is that our system has long been biased against legal creativity. While criminals (and highway-obstructing protesters) exploit every loophole and weakness in the law, our institutions, perhaps the Crown Prosecution Service especially, tend toward a more timid approach that involves doing the minimum necessary and making the issue someone else’s problem. It makes you wonder what Al Capone’s fate might have been in Britain.
What was needed in Mizzy’s case was a clear and unmistakable punishment and deterrent. What we got instead was him walking free from court with a paltry fine of £365 – easily dwarfed by the potential earnings from social media fame – and an invitation to speak and brag on a TV show. That evening, smirking into the cameras, he showed little sign of remorse. The former TikToker said he could now be found on the live-streaming platform Twitch.
And then came the hammer blow. “UK laws are weak. Simple as. That’s not my fault,” he told the host.
Sadly, on this, he was absolutely right. For beyond his own case, as people continue to stab each other on our streets, fewer than one in three people caught with a knife last year got sent to prison – a proportion which appears to have been falling over recent years – and the picture is worse with under-18s. Moreover, just 218 of the 3,423 knife or offensive weapon possession offences in 2022 resulted in a custodial sentence. That’s down from nearly 514 in 2018.
Even when caught repeatedly with a knife or offensive weapon, and where we have minimum sentences in law, we see nearly 4 out of 10 adults and 7 out of 10 under-18s avoiding time in prison.
If our politicians and institutions can’t even get tough on those roaming our streets with deadly weapons, there seems little prospect of a crackdown on criminal social media crazes. And the danger now is that, as the lenient consequences of such crazes are found out, they become a viral phenomenon – maybe as contagious as the disruptive climate change protests, but worse. We have got to watch out for these copycats.
The whole thing feeds into a crisis of justice and policing in Britain. Now more than ever, our political leaders need to realign themselves with the overwhelming law-abiding majority. They need to get tough on crime, tough on criminals, and commit to ensuring that criminal justice institutions are adequately resourced and up for the fight.
Rory Geoghegan is a former police officer and special adviser on crime in No 10
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