City Diary : Pigeon war hots up as RSCPA homes in with possible charges

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The pigeon row is hotting up. For those new to the scandal, Scottish Life International sent 77 homing pigeons to financial journalists on Wednesday morning as a publicity stunt for a new product launch.

A significant number of journalists, however, failed to see the funny side and complained to the RSPCA about the birds, which had been couriered around to offices in cardboard boxes.

Although 77 birds were sent out, four failed to return to Scottish Life - they were impounded by the RSPCA, which is considering legal action under the 1911 Cruelty to Animals in Transit Act.

Clarendon, the PR outfit behind the stunt, said: "We are absolutely furious with the RSPCA. They have manipulated this for themselves without investigating the facts of pigeon racing."

A Clarendon spokesman said that pigeons had been used to carry messages for 300 years, and racing pigeons were quite accustomed to being transported in boxes. He admitted, however, that the agency should have warned the journalists about the impending arrival of the birds beforehand. The RSPCA recalls that there has been another example of live animals being sent to people as a stunt . In 1988, video shops received packets of corn snakes to advertise a film called The Serpent.

Snakes, indeed. At least pigeons only make a mess on the carpet.

Sir Colin Marshall of British Airways did not get quite the reception he hoped for yesterday at BT's agm in Newcastle, as he sat on the podium for the first time as non-executive director and deputy chairman.

One of the first questions to be asked by a shareholder was what the board thought about the allegations of dirty tricks by BT against cable companies. The claim is that BT has been phoning people who have switched to cable, and trying to win them back, even when the customers are ex- directory.

The shareholder then remarked that she had spoken against the appointment of Sir Colin at last year's agm, because she "could see this kind of thing would happen". Nobody needed to be reminded of BA's long-standing row with Virgin over Richard Branson's own allegations of dirty tricks.

Sir Colin sat through the exchange stony-faced. Had he really gone all the way up to Newcastle to hear this?

To the Emap agm off Fleet Street for the vital vote. Chief executive Robin Miller and his colleagues are trying to cut the minimum number of non-executive directors on the board at any one time from five to three.

Non-executive chairman Sir John Hoskyns, of Burton fame, rises to support the motion, and mentions that two of the board's 13 directors are unable to attend, one executive and one non. Apparently one of the directors is sunning himself on a Mediterranean beach.

Then up gets Joe Cooke, Telegraph Group vice-chairman and one of the Emap board's dissident non-execs. He tells shareholders non-execs are "very busy people" so you need a lot of them on the board to ensure a good turn-out at each meeting. Just look at today - two directors missing. Touche.

Despite this rapier-like intervention, the board wins on a poll.

How do you change from being a share tipper on a tip sheet to being a fully paid-up City broker's analyst? Just ask Jon Levinson, who has joined independent brokers Teather & Greenwood after six years editing and writing Penny Share Focus for a company called Chartsearch.

Mr Levinson will be analysing small companies and AIM stocks, starting with Teather & Greenwood's own dozen or so AIM clients. He says he is glad to be joining just as the firm is moving from its ageing City offices off London Wall to spanking new premises next to Broadgate.

So did Mr Levinson tip any real winners on Penny Share Focus? "I had a good track record - to tell you the truth, I'm not really focused on that at the moment," he replies. OK then, any tips for today? "Its a bit too soon really. I started here yesterday."

Remarkable. A tipper who refuses to tip. Perhaps AIM really has gone flat.

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