A JUDGE who likened growing cannabis to tomato plants criticised Oxford City Council as he dismissed an Antisocial Behaviour Order.

The city council had wanted Phillip Pledge thrown out of his home and banned from Blackbird Leys for two years after police seized £3,400-worth of cannabis from a flat in Evenlode Tower where he was temporarily living.

But Judge Charles Harris - who caused controversy last week during the Asbo hearing when he said it was no more offensive to neighbours to grow cannabis than tomato plants - threw out the case.

Judge Harris said at Oxford Crown Court: "Oxford City Council applied for the order because the defendant caused harassment, alarm or distress.

"I have considerable reservations. There is no evidence at all to show anyone had been caused alarm, had been harassed or could be distressed.

"It is not appropriate to seek orders with potentially very serious consequences without producing evidence to justify them.

"It is alleged the defendant was growing and selling cannabis in his flat. This is a criminal offence and he could have been tried in the criminal courts.

"For some reason the Crown Prosecution Service has not charged Mr Pledge, although the police have reason to justify charging him.

"It is not for the local housing authority in civil proceedings, via an Asbo, to provide a substitute for criminal proceedings."

The court heard Mr Pledge was jailed in 1998 for possession of cannabis and fined in 2000 for cultivating it.

Mr Pledge, of Strawberry Path in Blackbird Leys, had been living in the flat temporarily due to an arson attack on his home.

The 38-year-old was in rent arrears of £1,479.64, but told Judge Harris he had arranged to pay that back.

Mr Pledge, speaking after the court case, said: "I feel persecuted because they have tried to make me out to be something I'm not. If I was a problem to the community, I would accept it - but I am not."

Judge Harris did not give leave for the council to appeal against his decision against an Asbo or to evict Mr Pledge.

Oxford's top policeman, Chief Supt Dave McWhirter, said the judge's comments would now be considered when police and the council review future Asbo applications.

He added: "We will continue to use Asbos on drug dealers where we consider it appropriate, but will obviously think about the comments that he (Judge Harris) has made first."

But the council's Crime and Nuisance Action Team (Canact) operations manager, Peta Donaghy, said the council would not be changing its policy as a result of Judge Harris's comments.

She said: "We are disappointed with the outcome. We will continue to support the community with any antisocial behaviour issues. We act accordingly regardless of what the Crown Prosecution Service do."