LEADING ARTICLE:The bird-woman dilemma

On Monday a Croydon woman was jailed for 28 days for contempt of court after breaking an order restraining her from feeding pigeons. What should happen to her?
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The Independent Online
Option1: It is absurd that a 68-year-old woman should be waking up this morning in Holloway prison because she puts down food for birds. Jean Knowlson is not a danger to others - and it is questionable that all avenues short of imprisonment have been explored.

They should have been - it will cost a lot to keep her banged up, and on release she will almost certainly re-offend. What then - life imprisonment?

True, Mrs Knowlson's guano-bespattered neighbours also have a right to society's protection. But we need to be much more imaginative and to devise a form of restraint that is both more humane and more effective. Prison should be a last resort.

One possibility is the employment (at Mrs Knowlson's expense) of a hawk and a falconer to scare the pigeons away. The drawbacks here would be the scaring off of all other birds, the threat to furry pets, and the remaining problem of rats attracted to the mounds of bread laid down by Mrs K. But it would work.

Failing that the eccentric pensioner could be temporarily relocated to a place where her obsession would be rendered harmless - or even helpful. The National Trust runs a bird sanctuary on the Farne Islands, off the coast of Northumberland. The islands are smelly and unpleasant, and the only activity there is looking after the birds. Paradise for Mrs Knowlson, one would have thought, and cheaper than jug.

Option 2: Imagine Trafalgar Square in your garden. Every day thousands of dirty, disease-ridden pigeons alight on every external surface. Time and again you ask your neighbour to desist from attracting them - and she ignores you. The council asks her - and she ignores them. The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds begs her - she gives them the bird. Finally a judge demands that she stop - and she still persists.

Nor is the nuisance any the less for being slightly risible. Just as loud music played night after night can, after a short while, become genuinely intolerable, so too can the loss of utility and pleasure in your own property, caused by the daily incursion of pests.

Suppose that instead of Jean Knowlson, aged 68, the figure in the dock had belonged to shaven-headed Darren Knowlson, aged 18, also guilty of continued acts of anti-social behaviour (minor vandalism, say) and contempt of court. Would there have been such an outcry against a custodial sentence for young Dazza? Of course not.

The unpalatable truth is that where someone's behaviour refuses to recognise the rights of others to peaceful enjoyment of their lives, action will eventually have to be taken. Most offenders will realise this and stop short of going to prison. If they do not, then they have no one to blame but themselves.

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