A HEROIN addict who was let off for shoplifting by sympathetic magistrates was caught stealing less than two hours after leaving court.

At the first hearing, Adam O’Neill, 32, told magistrates he wanted to get off drugs and turn his life around.

Defence lawyer Ian Clift made an emotional plea for the bench to show leniency, claiming O’Neill accepted he was going nowhere and needed to get off drugs to improve himself.

O’Neill was desperate to avoid prison so he could start a drug treatment order, he added.

Magistrates, who heard his regular thefts were to fund a heroin addiction, took pity and handed him a drug rehabilitation order.

But the good behavior O’Neill promised didn’t last long.

Just after 2pm the same day, he was caught stealing £46 of steaks from Marks and Spencer in Basildon town centre.

Where magistrates previously swallowed his story, this time they jailed him for 32 weeks.

Franck Tomlin, councillor responsible for community saftey, said: “You could not make this up.

“The judiciary on the whole is far too soft. They should take action to put people on the straight and narrow who genuinely want help, but the judiciary as a whole is failing to protect public.

“This case is an example of initial poor judgement on the part of the court.”

O’Neill, a scaffolder from Lorrimore Close, Billericay, had a history of stealing meat from shops to sell on cheaply to fund his heroin addiction.

On Thursday he pleaded guilty to two counts of shoplifting from the BP Mayflower petrol station in Radford Way, Billericay, taking a pack of four steaks from Marks & Spencer on June 19 and £12 worth of meat on June 6.

He also admitted stealing two drills and a concrete breaker worth £890 while working as a contractor on the Pitsea flyover repairs on June 1.

After his arrest for theft from Marks & Spencer, O’Neill was remanded in custody before his appearance at Basildon Magistrates Court the same afternoon. During that hearing, the same magistrates he saw previously served immediate prison sentences for all the offences.