A teenage drug dealer has been spared from a prison sentence by a judge, who has instead called him in for a monthly chat, sparking fury among the public.
Judge Philip Statman decided on the community sentence with the meetings to be held in judge's chambers at Maidstone Crown Court after he was told the 16-year-old had promised to turn over a new leaf.
The youth, who cannot be named for legal reasons, had been caught with 50 "wraps" of crack and heroin during a police raid on a house, and he had faced a lengthy sentence after admitting possession of both class A drugs with intent to supply in Maidstone, Kent.
But Judge Statman ordered him to do 100 hours community service and complete a two-year supervision programme, with the talks included in the scheme.
The move has infuriated Daily Express columnist Ann Widdecombe, Maidstone MP and a former Tory prisons minister, who have accused the judge of passing a lenient sentence.
"The only way to be certain he won't continue to deal in drugs is to have him in some form of detention," the Daily Express quoted her as saying.
"I'm not against things like this in general but I don't think it is appropriate with someone who has gone so far and got involved so seriously." A police source added: "This seems highly unusual to many of us and I would ask, what message does it send out?
"Drugs, especially hard drugs like crack and heroin, are blighting communities up and down the country and Maidstone is no exception.
"Most of us here personally feel that anyone, regardless of their circumstances, who is caught with such large quantities and convicted of possession with intent to supply should be taken off the streets. This decision might be hailed as 'forward thinking' or 'preventative'.
"But many people would say it will suggest to young people that it's worth taking your chances selling class A drugs because there's a fair chance you'll avoid being locked up," she said.
During the hearing, the judge spoke about the need to keep Maidstone drug-free, and also warned the teenager that if he had been 18 years old he would have been sent to jail for more than two and a half years.
"Judge Statman is certainly not a soft touch - in fact he's well known in here for his no-nonsense approach," a court source said.
"But it seems something in this lad's case tugged on his heart-strings and he's determined to do all he can to get the boy back on the right track," the source added.
The defendant, who lives in London, was also given a curfew, electronically tagged and banned from Kent for the next six months - except to attend his appointments with the judge.