Murder, mayhem and a Swan called Freddie

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The Independent Online
It is a tale of murder, intrigue and dark threats. The Cornish fishing village of Polperro, population 1,585, has been split down the middle by its resident swan called Freddie.

Freddie, after the fashion of his Hollywood namesake Mr Kruger, has created a nightmare on Polperro Street.

A territorial creature at the best of times, the cob swan has reacted to his mate, Phreda, coming into season by killing ducklings in the village harbour to make sure any bread available goes to his own offspring. Last weekend he is said to have maimed and then drowned 12 ducklings.

In a dramatic escalation of the feud between the pro-duck and pro-swan factions, dead ducklings have been pushed through the letter box of the Three Pilchards public house, whose landlord has been accused of being pro-swan.

This prompted the licensee, Andy Puckey, to put a poster on his front door that read: "Latest score: Swan 6 Ducks 0. And will the secret postman/woman have the courage to reveal themselves? I doubt it!!!" Police from Looe were called in to remove the poster because they were concerned it might cause a breach of public order. They reprimanded a teenage boy for the duckling deliveries but took no further action.

Mr Puckey admitted that he used to be pro-swan but says he now wants to see them gone as much as anyone.

"It's for their own safety really because one of these nights that cob is going to end up dead," he said.

Some residents who have decided enough is enough took to the water last week during one of Freddie's frenzies to stop the slaughter.

Monica Field-Johnson said: "I went out in a small boat and was trying to put him off by bashing him over the head with a plastic paddle. But it was like hitting a warship with a dingbat.

"It's most unpleasant. He grabs the ducklings as they come bobbing down the river, throws them in the air and drowns them. You find dismembered ducklings all over the harbour. It makes the children cry.

"He is a particularly butch and macho swan and has got to be removed by legal means otherwise somebody is going to take the law into their own hands."

Harbour trustee, pro-duck Graham Jolliff said those who wanted the swan to stay saw the swans as substitute children. "There are lots of old dears who have adopted the swan because their children have left home and they have no pets.

"But this harbour is no place for swans. When young swans are learning to fly they have the problem of all the wires round the harbour. They go straight into the chimneys and we are forever picking them up when they are injured."

A spokesman for Devon and Cornwall police said: "It has split the community down the middle. Our only concerns are for public order and that the birds are not harmed in any way. We can't actually arrest the swan for murder."

For most of the 10 years he has been in the village Freddie adopted a less militant approach towards his feathered neighbours and was a village favourite. Residents even clubbed together to buy a raft for him to nest on.

But as Freddie and Phreda feasted on the bread provided by well-meaning villagers, ducks were attracted to the free meals on offer and that is when the feathers started flying.

The problem is that Polperro harbour has no natural food source, such as mud flats or grass, so the swans are dependent on the goodwill of villagers and will fight anything that may threaten their food.

Two years ago, Freddie killed around 80 ducklings, prompting some villagers to spray him with washing-up liquid.

The RSPCA said it had no plan to remove Freddie and Phreda. "The swan is doing what comes naturally and is defending the food for its own offspring," said spokeswoman Julie Briggs. "We would seek to prosecute anyone caught spraying him with detergent."