Freedom bid by 'pigeon woman'

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The Independent Online

Home Affairs Correspondent

Lawyers for the 68-year-old woman jailed for feeding pigeons will today return to the High Court in an attempt to secure her freedom.

The two courses open to them are to appeal or for Jean Knowlson to purge her contempt and promise to stop the feeding.

Yesterday, welfare groups protested about the decision to send Mrs Knowlson to Holloway prison in defiance of a court order to stop feeding pigeons. Her case has raised concerns about how to treat someone of her age and disposition, who is creating a health hazard, apparently making life a misery for her neighbours and who continues to defy court orders.

Lawyers and probation officers said yesterday the law of civil contempt - under which she was jailed - needed reform to allow help to be given. The only punishments currently available under the law are fines or jail.

Mrs Knowlson was sent to prison on Monday for laying "carpets of bread" in Purley, south London, within hours of a court order telling her not to.

Croydon council had been trying to stop her mission for 20 years, saying she was bringing in rats and possible disease. Neighbours complained of having to clean up pigeon droppings by the bucketful. Finally, the council turned to the courts - but despite fines totalling pounds 1,200 and the threat of imprisonment she kept feeding the birds. Mr Justice Buxton said he had no alternative but to send her to prison.

Mrs Knowlson accepted she was in breach of the order but said she "looked at their little faces" and could not stop.

Harry Fletcher, assistant general secretary of the National Association of Probation Officers, said yesterday. "This cannot be justice. Mrs Knowlson will be held with convicted criminals and will then return to the same problems of isolation and compulsive behaviour that led to the difficulties in the first place."

Leading article, page 14