Riot is an indictable offence and carries a maximum sentence of 10 years.

This is a statutory offence in England and Wales and defined in Section 1 of the Public Order Act 1986. 'It is committed where 12 or more persons who are present together use or threaten unlawful violence for a common purpose and the conduct of them (taken together) is such as would cause a person of reasonable firmness present at the scene to fear for his personal safety, each of the persons using violence for the common purpose is guilty of riot.'


It is immaterial whether the unlawful violence or threat of unlawful violence happens simultaneously.



The reference to 'a person of reasonable firmness present at the scene to fear for their personal safety' is intended to operate as an objective test but it is not necessary for a person of reasonable firmness to have been at the scene (Davison (1992)).


The House of Lords in I, M and H v DPP (2001) has ruled that there must be a threat to someone who is actually present at the scene. In the case in question police arrived at a residential area in response to a telephone call and found some 40 to 50 youths in a group some 8 or 9 were carrying petrol bombs made out of petrol filled milk bottles. It was claimed that the group were members of the 'Canon Street Boys' who were intending to have a fight with the 'Barnado Boys.'


Lord Hutton was quite clear when he stated 'The present case demonstrated that a person should not be charged with the offence (the case concerned the offence of affray but the principle holds good) unless he used or threatened unlawful violence towards another person actually present at the scene …..'


Lord Hutton also indicated that giving the statutory words "threatens unlawful violence" their ordinary and natural meaning the carrying of dangerous weapons, such as petrol bombs by a group of persons could, in some circumstances, constitute the threat of violence, without those weapons being waved or brandished.

Riot is an indictable only offence and carries a maximum sentence of 10 years and/or a fine of unlimited amount. 




House of Lords - I and Another (A.P.) (Appellants) and Another v

Police make arrests at Thatcher death street parties in Bristol and ..   

Public Order Act 1986 - 

'draconian' Public Order Act - The Independent



Violent Disorder






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