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School mural project saves drug dealer from jail
5:50am Wednesday 2nd October 2013 in Local News
A FORMER drug dealer who stole alcohol from a shop while working on a community scheme for offenders has narrowly avoided being sent to jail.
Artist Paul May, 38, was working with schoolchildren on a community art project at Southend East station as part of a sentence imposed a year ago for selling heroin to an undercover police officer.
At the time he was also given a suspended jail sentence and told if he re-offended he would probably be jailed for the original offence.
Five months into the project, May hid two bottles of brandy in his jacket, then walked out of Iceland’s shop, in York Road, Southend without paying for them, Basildon Crown Court was told. May, from Palmerstone Road, Westcliff, then sold the brandy, worth £26, for £10.
Security staff has seen him steal the bottles and called police, who arrested him in Southend High Street.
The court heard May had been working on a project run by rail company c2c with children from Hamstel Primary School, to design and paint a mural at the station.
May’s lawyer, Richard Stevens, asked the court not to jail his client, explaining: “This project is likely to lead to future projects involving the defendant, who is clearly an accomplished artist.
“c2c is in the middle of negotiations for other work and the defendant is likely to work on the new project.”
Paul Reynolds, c2c train service manager, wrote a reference to the court, praising May and supporting his plea not to be jailed.
Mr Stevens said the shoplifting offence had been “a blip” on his client’s record.
May had lost out on Jobseekers’ Allowance for six months while doing the voluntary work and had stolen the bottles to help pay an electricity bill. He added: “He is now a waste porter at Southend Hospital, earning £14,500 a year and will keep that job alongside future art projects.
“He last took drugs two years ago, and he remains drug-free.”
May admitted breaching his community order twice – the shoplifting offence and another incident in March.
Judge John Lodge fined him £100 and ordered him to pay £360 costs and a £40 victim surcharge.
The judge told him: “Next time it will be your last, last chance.”
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