A judge criticised the low cost of alcohol after being told a young defendant drank 24 cans of Stella Artois lager a day despite being unemployed.

Judge Philip Statman QC interrupted the man's defence barrister in astonishment after being told benefits covered the daily consumption of two dozen cans of the high-strength Belgian lager and two bottles of Strongbow cider.

The court heard Nicky Welfare, 21, set off a fire extinguisher inside a petrol station shop when staff locked the doors to try and stop his friend taking with two crates of Stella in Strood, Kent.

Mr Statman, speaking at Maidstone Crown Court, interjected when defence barrister Louise Oakley told him of Welfare's alcohol consumption despite only receiving ?60.40 a week in Jobseeker's Allowance.

The judge said: "Where does he get the money for 24 cans of Stella a day?"

She explained that Welfare lived with his parents, meaning the benefit payments amounted to pocket money, adding that the price of Stella had plunged in recent years.

She said: "He was in a position where he was able to drink very much to excess."

The judge told Welfare: "You are destroying your life by drinking and you will end up on a mortuary slab if you carry on in this way.

"You are 21 years of age and I am told you consume 24 cans of Stella Artois lager a day along with two bottles of cider.

"You are a walking advertisement for those who say that now, in the community, alcohol is far too readily available at far too cheap a price."

Welfare, who has no qualifications and has rarely worked since leaving school, was said to have turned to drinking vast quantities as he had too much time on his hands.

Miss Oakley said: "After he left school with no formal education he was essentially doing nothing. Boredom took hold and he began to consume alcohol. His alcohol is something which he recognises having become out of control."

The court had heard how Welfare and friend Daniel Brown caused thousands of pounds of damage when they let off the extinguisher at the On The Run forecourt shop in Strood, Kent, in March last year.

The shop and its stock were so badly damaged that the store had to remain closed for two days while staff cleared up the mess.

Both men, of Strood in Kent, were then arrested but Brown was later caught while on bail doing 90mph on a motorbike.

Welfare was given an eight-week jail term suspended for two years and ordered to do 120 hours of community service after admitting criminal damage at an earlier hearing.

He was also given a two-year supervision order and will be made subject to a curfew.

Brown, an air conditioning engineer, got a 48-week suspended jail term plus 200 hours community service and a one-year driving ban.

He had admitted criminal damage, dangerous driving, driving while disqualified and without insurance.

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