Woman, 68, 'does bird' for bread offences

Jojo Moyes reports on the despair of Croydon residents mobbed by greedy pigeons
Click to follow
The Independent Online
With 68 handfuls of breadcrumbs and six bucketfuls of droppings, a 68-year-old woman gave a new meaning to the term "doing bird" yesterday, when she was jailed last night at the High Court for 28 days for persisting in feeding the pigeons of south Croydon.

Jean Knowlson was told 10 days ago that she faced jail, having ignored repeated warnings that the trails of bread she left along the streets leading to Purley Oaks railway station were a serious health hazard.

But she told her lawyer that despite the risk of imprisonment she "looked at their little faces and couldn't bear not to feed them".

Mrs Knowlson's 30-year enthusiasm for bird welfare was apparently not shared by local residents. One of her neighbours, Dorothy Hallett, described being woken at 5am by the sound of hundreds of pigeons swooping onto the roof to be fed.

Mrs Hallett's brother, 70, forced to clean out the gutters because of the smell, collected six bucketloads of droppings.

Despite fines and costs totalling pounds 1,278 from local magistrates and a High Court order forbidding her to distribute food anywhere in the borough, Mrs Knowlson continued her mission, carrying bin-bags full of bread to sprinkle around the bases of trees.

But she did not reckon on the equal dedication of a council environmental officer, who noted bread "12 inches deep" on her bird table.

Mrs Knowlson "changed her tactics" by going out in the dead of night. But he trailed her and watched as she carpeted a car park at the rear of restaurants in town with bread"like snow".

On the day after the final warning on 14 July, more bags of bread were seen being delivered to her front garden by her landlord, Alan White.

When challenged, Mr White said: "She tells me I have got to do it. My house and garden are in a terrible state and I don't know what to do."

As a last resort, her lawyers called in an expert from the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds who explained that her kindness would eventually backfire because the council would have to call in an exterminator.

Her counsel said in court: "Now she knows that if she feeds them their little necks are going to be wrung by the local authority."

But the court heard that two days later, Mrs Knowlson was seen distributing 68 handfuls of bread at the local recreation ground. This, it seems, was a crumb too far.

Her counsel appealed for leniency, saying that Mrs Knowlson admitted breaking the court injunctions "out of a passionate desire to assist the local bird population".

"But she has now been disabused of that perverse logic and realises that her conduct doesn't help the birds but is to their detriment."

But the judge declared all this was "far too little and far too late". He added that the court had shown mercy 10 days ago and that he had "no alternative" but to enforce a suspended 28-day jail order.

Jean Knowlson was led off last night to begin her sentence in Holloway Prison.