A PROLIFIC one-armed shoplifter has avoided paying hundreds of pounds in fines after magistrates wiped the slate clean when he agreed to spend a day on court grounds.

Miroslav Balog, 32, of Retort Close, Shoebury, admitted at Southend Magistrates’ Court three counts of stealing meat from a Southend Co-operative worth a total of £178.

He was given a 12-month conditional discharge and ordered to pay £87 in compensation. But when it emerged Balog, a father-of- three with no left arm, also owed the court £904 in outstanding fines and compensation, magistrates’ came up with a different punishment.

Rather then make him cough up the cash, chairman of the bench, Robert Smale, said he would waive outstanding fines of £859 if Balog agreed to stay on court grounds until 5pm.

Balog agreed, and will now only have to pay £45 in compensation for the previous offence, as well £87.66 compensation for the three meat thefts.

Speaking about the sentence, Paul Thompson, chairman of Southend Seafronts Traders’ Association, said: “That is not a deterrent. It’s carte blanche for him to carry on offending. Serial offenders are given a soft touch approach. Ordinary hardworking people lose out because these criminals are getting off scot-free.

“It’s ridiculous. These people waste police time. Police do their job – but unfortunately the courts put the offenders back on the street. What will happen if he’s in there again? Will we start giving him money?”

The court was told unemployed Balog, who committed his most recent offences on February 23, April 5 and April 14, feared he would be deported to his native Czech Republic if he continued to offend.

The court heard Balog had battled a heroin addiction but was working hard to overcome it and had asked to serve time in prison last year to try and come off the drug.

Michelle Breindel, mitigating, said: “He fears if he keeps offending he will be deported. I said to him ‘you have no money, will you go and shoplift to support your family?’ He said ‘no, we will have to manage with what we have.’”

The court heard some meat worth £90.98 was recovered from the theft on April 5.

Balog’s one day in court custody meant he could wander around the concourse and use the restaurant. Mr Smale said: “We have heard you are turning your life around. You have another opportunity to do so, make sure you take it.”

A spokesman for the Courts and Tribunals Judiciary said: “We do not comment on judges’ and magistrates’ sentencing decisions, other than to say they sentence on the facts of each case and within guidelines.”