Feed the birds, six weeks in jail …

Feed the birds, six weeks in jail …

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Lancashire Evening Post
                      Lancashire Evening Post

Introduction

It is not often that you get people out into the streets to protest that a Court had imposed a prison sentence on someone. Well, on Saturday 40 or so people turned out in Lancashire to do just that.

 

Facts

John Wilkinson, the Birdman of Morecambe, would regularly feed pigeons in his local area. This wasn’t just out of a pure love of birds, “His mum used to do it and it was her dying wish he fed the birds.

This didn’t go down to well with some of the other residents. The Council, after several years of trying to mediate the situation, ran out of options and got an ASBO against Mr Wilkinson. The terms appear to be not to:

  • feed any birds in his home or within 100 metres of his address;
  • feed any birds in England and Wales outside of the exclusion zone unless the feeding takes place twice a day between the hours of 9.30am and 10.30am, then 3.30pm and 5pm, in a location that cannot be the same location in the morning and afternoon; and no more than half a kilo of bird seed to be fed to the birds at any one time;
  • feed any birds in England and Wales outside the exclusion zone any other foodstuffs or bird food, except bird seed;
  • aid, abet or incite others to feed any bird within England and Wales.

You know where this is going right? This wasn’t enough to deter Mr Wilkinson, who continued feeding his beloved birds. This was not just bird seed (and there was a lot of bird seed – allegedly up to 40kg a day which seems an implausibly large amount), but also he “was giving the pigeons vast quantities of pizzas, pasta, and processed ready-meals which had the potential to attract rats.

He breached it twice last year receiving a Suspended Sentence. This didn’t deter him, as in February 2014 he was back again, feeding them suet cake. He was prosecuted for this, pleading guilty.

On 27th May 2014 he was sentenced to six weeks in prison for this third breach.

 

Analysis

There are Sentencing Guidelines for Breach of an ASBO. It is not clear how much harassment the specific breach caused, but probably not that much (if there was only one suet cake). Because of the repeated breaches, it would probably be in the middle category (starting point 6 weeks, with a range of a non-custodial sentence up to 26 weeks).

There was a guilty plea here which should attract full credit. It is a difficult one to sentence – on the one hand there was no harm done and there appears to be very little point in locking up a pensioner for feeding the birds. But on the other hand, if people won’t comply with Court orders, there’s not much else that can be done if there are repeat breaches.

There are underlying questions of whether an ASBO was necessary in this case. There are genuine concerns as to whether these are handed out too liberally (they are), but that does not mean that they are sometimes necessary.

This case does raise an interesting question of how we deal with people who do not conform with society’s norms. Sometimes it is clear that we over-react (such as in the Naked Rambler case), other situations are more complicated, such as this one. How do you deal with Mr Wilkinson?

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Dan is a barrister at 2 Dr. Johnson’s Buildings practising in crime.

30 COMMENTS

  1. Well done the council for not submitting to this foolish man’s emotional blackmail. And more fool the protestors.

  2. Having been caught by the feds, he was bound to get some bird handed down to him.

    In the final sentence of the penultimate paragraph, presumably the word “sometimes” should have been the word “never”.

    I hope he doesn’t discover learn how to commit felonies whilst inside. That would be the touching story of the Bird Man of Alcatraz, but in reverse.

    • Presumably you haven’t got any sympathy for the taxpayers who fund this state-sponsored nitpickery, either. And, knowing how effective the prison system is at rehabilitating the ‘nonconformists’, I am sure he will come out and never do it again.
      I take it you weren’t the lawyer acting for Steven Peers.

      • I’m not sure what your point is? That prison is expensive so custodial sentences shouldn’t be used, or that the council/police should not have instigated breach proceedings?

        Don’t know Steven Peers – is he a friend?

    • Several points, actually. Feeding pigeons is not worthy of a custodial sentence in any sane society (nor is sending people to prison for rambling naked), sending this man to prison is going to have no effect other than costing the taxpayer money…..among others. What’s next? No sympathy for people given six weeks jug for failing to wear underarm deodorant?
      Steven Peers was the man arrested for ‘impersonating an officer’ last week for wearing an obviously fake police uniform (complete with plastic toy hat) and a pig mask. The police then developed a common-sense gene and decided not to proceed. I can see you are a regular follower of this blog. Maybe too busy reading-up on the law of bollards and street lamps to ensure regulation height is adequately enforced? The law is a harsh mistress, isn’t she?

      • He hasn’t been sentenced for feeding pigeons, he’s been sentenced for breaching an ASBO which is a court order

      • Thanks for that. For a moment there I was fooled by the title of this thread: ‘Feed the birds, six weeks in jail.’ You win today’s prize for nitpickery.

      • Ha! It’s not nitpickery. If you text your ex pleading with her to give you another chance that’s okay. If you do it in breach of a restraining order it’s a serious criminal offence and you may well go to prison. When a court says ‘don’t feed the birds’ and you do, you’re in breach of a court order. Very serious

      • A ‘black letter’ man, eh? However, I suspect if he hadn’t fed pigeons, he wouldn’t be eating porridge for breakfast this morning. I know lawyers like to dot the ‘i’s’ and cross the ‘t’s’, though, so I won’t spoil your fun.

  3. I’m sorry for this man’s neighbours. Social norms – such as not attracting rats – are not cut from the whole cloth; they generally have a rational underpinning and that one certainly does.

  4. If you’d take a look around the streets where he lives bird muck is not the main issue. Back yards full of black bags festering rubbish broken glass in the alleys. His house has his windows boarded up because the local yob’s bully and taunt him smashing his windows and breaking in his home. prison should be kept for actual criminals

    • You can see the street where he lives on Google Street View. The people who live there deserve the same protection from anti-social behaviour as everybody else.

      Wilkinson is going to jail because he committed an actual crime – he disobeyed a court order. A court order against the feeding of pigeons to the extent that it becomes a health hazard is in my view a wholly reasonable use of the law.

  5. My impression is that the number of criminal ASBOs has dropped significantly in recent years. However, once an ASBO has been imposed, an eventual custodial sentence becomes almost inevitable. It would be interesting to see some reliable research on the subject.

    • I accidentally ran a squirrel over last year. I sat it’s lifeless body on the fence as a warning to other squirrels. The next day it was gone. Spooky eh? Sometimes I could swear I see a ghostly squirrel apparition burying acorns in the lawn…

  6. John Wilkinson’s story is a very long complicated one and he needs very specialist help – I can totally sympathise with his neighbours but there are other bigger problems in the area where he lives. An ASBO was an easy way out of this problem as far as I am concerned and unless people know his full story they have no right to judge him in any way

    • Completely agree. I lived on one of the adjoining streets to his and what he does in minor to other things that go on there. I think they should have given him community service to clean up the area rather than prison. He’s only going to go back to feeding the birds when he comes out. Maybe a designated feeding area that way he can do what he loves and the neighbours can’t complain.

    • Why can’t we judge him if we want to, with or without the full facts, surely anyone is entitled to have an opinon whether others like it or not. On this issue I have no strong feelings one way or another but you cannot tell people how to think or what to think. I don’t know the full story of the man who likes to roll around in cow poo who has recently been imprisoned but my opinion is it’s a disgusting fetish and one he should seek help for.

      • Quite right, LES, and I will defend (if not perhaps to the death) your right to freedom of expression. I too find the poo man’s hobby disgusting, and it sounds pretty fetishistic. Those are (by way of examples) entirely legitimate value judgements to form and express.

  7. Prison was harsh. Community order with a referral to the CPN or counselling would’ve been a better disposal

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