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.
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.
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?