A judge has praised the people of a seaside resort for the good judgment they have shown over a sex offender after he was released back into their community.
Despite feelings running high over a series of offences in the small town of Seaton in Devon, reaction to the case has been level-headed.
Judge Mr Justice Evans praised the tolerance of the community for not taking any action against sex pest Matthew Hampton, despite the apparent anger the case has generated.
He spoke as he jailed Hampton, aged 30, for groping women, including a girl as young as 14, in a two-week bottom-pinching spree in the seaside resort.
University student Hampton fondled complete strangers in shops in Seaton, then told police he thought it was a normal way of making a sexual approach.
The student, who is due to start a Master's degree in history at Cambridge next year, left many of his victims disgusted and distressed after following them around and touching them repeatedly.
Hampton, who was released into the community in Seaton prior to his sentence, was jailed for 36 weeks, suspended for 18 months, and ordered to receive 18 months' supervision at Exeter Crown Court yesterday.
Mr Justice Evans also put him on the sex offenders register for ten years.
He said the public would be better protected by Hampton working with probation to address his problems than by a short jail sentence.
Mr Warren Robinson, defending Hampton, told the court: "Since being released he has been back in the small community of Seaton and there have been no incidents. The people of Seaton have had the opportunity to express their umbrage, but they haven't."
The judge replied: "That speaks very highly of them."
Hampton's victims were aged between 14 and 51 and included a hairdresser who he groped while she was cutting his hair, Exeter Crown Court was told.
He was caught because he paid for the haircut by credit card and revealed where he worked as he chatted to the stylist.
Hampton, of The Avenue, Seaton, who had a holiday job working at a hotel in the resort, admitted six sexual assaults and asked for two more to be considered.
The judge told him: "The effects on your victims were to be very upsetting and has undermined their confidence when they are out shopping. Your attitude to it was very worrying and I hope for your sake that was simply a stance you adopted with the police.
"The intention of the court is to stop this behaviour so others don't have to undergo the same unpleasant, demeaning, worrying and frightening experience."
Victims included a 14-year-old girl who was left crying uncontrollably after Hampton put his hand on her bottom, followed her when she moved away, then touched her again and reached for her breasts.
His other victims included a 42-year-old woman working at a charity shop, a 51-year-old working at a gift shop, a 25-year-old hairdresser, a 20-year-old who was shopping at a pet shop, and other women approached and touched at Cooperative or Tesco supermarkets.
Mr Warren Robinson, defending, said Hampton now accepted what he did was wrong and that he needs help. He said he had already spent eight days in custody and it had a shocking effect on him.