Emma Cowing: Mother, will they tear your boy apart?

SIR Elton John recently sent a box of books to a young man serving a 16-month prison sentence. Inside was a selection of novels and historic tomes, works by Tolstoy and the Scots historian Niall Ferguson amongst others.

It was a thoughtful gesture, the sort typical of the generous pop star and his partner, David Furnish.

So, who was this deserving young man? The recipient was 21-year old Charlie Gilmour, who is serving a sentence for violent disorder at Wandsworth.

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You will remember Gilmour. He is the protester who was photographed last December swinging from the Cenotaph during the student riots over university tuition fees. The one who claimed not to know what the Cenotaph was, despite being a Cambridge history undergraduate.

His mother is the writer Polly Samson, and his stepfather is the Pink Floyd guitarist Dave Gilmour. When not reading history at one of the finest universities in the country, he splits his time between his family's mews home in London, and their 3 million, six-storey near Brighton.

He was convicted of throwing a bin at a convoy of cars containing Prince Charles, sitting on a protection officer's car and smashing a window while chanting "they broke the moral law, we're going to break all the laws" - all the while under the influence of a cocktail of LSD and Valium. The judge who sentenced him also told him that by swinging from the Cenotaph he had shown the "ultimate disrespect" to Britain's war dead.

It's nice that Sir Elton takes up such worthy, needy causes. I mean, it's not as if Gilmour has anyone else on his side. Except, that is, his mother, who has taken to Twitter to anxiously communicate her concerns over her son's treatment while he does his porridge.

"Letter from son still locked in 23 hours a day," she tweeted last weekend. "Pickpocket has offered tutelage but shortage of pockets on prison uniforms." Aw, diddums.

On 15 July, the day he was sentenced, she tweeted woefully: "This is a waste of his time and our tax. Worst nightmare. My poor, gentle boy."

I agree. It is a waste of "his time and our tax". Perhaps if this "poor, gentle boy" had thought about this before he picked up a bin, none of us would be in this "nightmare".

It amazes me that Gilmour's mother, a smart, intelligent woman who writes for a living, has taken such an extraordinary stance on her son's conviction. While many parents would slink away embarrassed, wondering what they had done wrong in order to have a child behave so badly, Samson has attempted to style her son as a political prisoner.

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But perhaps we should not be surprised. In an interview last year, Gilmour stated proudly: "I've always loved good-quality clothing. My parents said that if I got into Cambridge, they would buy me a Savile Row suit."

What did they say he would get if he got into prison? A box of books from Elton John?

There is a picture of Gilmour, taken during the protests, that sums up just how "gentle" this young man is.It is not the famous one where he is swinging, in that shocking display of disrespect, on the Cenotaph. This picture shows him with a scarf wrapped round his face, a vacant, far-away expression in his eyes. In his hand, he clutches a nasty-looking rock the size of a large grapefruit. Far from appearing "gentle" he looks, frankly, dangerous.

There has been a lot of "let's get this in proportion" discussion over Gilmour's sentencing - that it was too heavy handed, he hadn't injured anyone, that he was made an example of.

But the irony is that prison will probably do Gilmour a lot of good. Instead of living in the rarefied, Sloaney world from which he appears to have taken the attitude that actions do not have consequences, he will meet real people from far outside his social spectrum, and see just where addictions to drugs and violent behaviour can lead you.

It would surprise me if Gilmour doesn't emerge from jail a better, more rounded person. It's just a shame his mother cannot recognise that.