Saturday, 31 May 2014

Opinion: Caging the Morecambe 'Bird Man'

The shock news that 65 year old Morecambe man John Wilkinson was given a six week prison sentence on 23 May for feeding birds in breach of an Anti-Social Behaviour Order (ASBO) has led to local people planning a 'mass bird feed' on Morecambe Prom tomorrow (Saturday) at 1.30pm in protest. The Morecambe Visitor has also launched a campaign to free him on the grounds that the sentence is:
  1. Out of proportion for the crime committed;
  2. An unnecessary waste of taxpayers’ money;
  3. Unlikely to make any long-term difference to Mr Wilkinson’s behaviour or benefit those impacted by his anti-social behaviour in any way.
A lovely and intelligent gentleman
One local resident has called him a 'lovely and intelligent gentleman', relating that he has been subjected to vandalism and abuse. The windows of his house have been smashed, on more than one occasion, and he has been followed and subjected to considerable abuse. The bird-feeding protest is planned to draw attention to a sentence believed to be draconian and unbalanced and unlikely, on its own, to resolve this situation successfully. 

What are the facts?
Residents living nearby Mr Wilkinson's home in Cavendish Road in Morecambe's West End had made numerous complaints for years to Lancaster City Council about the bird mess and nuisance that resulted from the flocks of birds that came daily to be fed. Back in 2005 Morecambe MP Geraldine Smith backed demands for an ASBO to be placed on him because of the hundreds of wild pigeons flocking into the neighbourhood to feed at his house throughout the day. Mr Wilkinson put the calls for him to desist down to 'spite and malice'. He believed the pigeons would starve without him.

An RSPB spokesperson told the Lancashire Evening Post (LEP) '"Pigeons are pretty hardy creatures. There is a lot of food for them to find elsewhere in Morecambe. He could be encouraging a large and unsustainable population to breed."

Morecambe police said (2005):  "We would not rule out an ASBO on Mr Wilkinson. We would, however, hope to deal with this through alternative routes."

Everyone's a critic
Four years and many, many pigeons later, in December 2009, the Storey Gallery in Lancaster ran a project about 'the contest between humans and animals over space' which featured the dispute between Mr Wilkinson and his neighbours prominently, much to the disgust of City Councillor Peter Robinson, who wasn't happy about the council grant-funding a treatment of a painful, ongoing local dispute as an art exhibit and suggested the council should instead look at issuing people who habitually feed pigeons with ASBOs. (See Lancashire Evening Post report 'Anger at Storey's 'bird man').

Coun Robinson's grounds for his aesthetic critique were sound. The dispute was not about a conflict between humans and birds for space. It was between humans; specifically one human habitually enticing flocks of wild birds into his neighbours' space without due regard for the distress, disturbance and health risk he thus inflicted on them. Had it been a dispute between humans and birds it would have soon been settled.

Coun Robinson also backed calls by Skerton resident Norman Tomlinson for the Council to follow the lead of a West Midlands council which had just recently fined a woman who was feeding ducks. However a council spokesman said that bird-feeding was not illegal and the government wouldn't support such unpopular legislation. All they could do was remonstrate, write letters and put up signs. Their hands were tied.

Pigeon fanciers who keep birds are governed by codes of practice and legislation but feeding wild birds is different. Thousands of us do it habitually in our yards and gardens and by the canal, supporting not only birds but also a birdfood industry from which many local businesses profit. We are just not expected normally do it on such a scale within an urban environment and so persistently in the teeth of such obvious problems for our neighbours.

Residents living nearby Mr Wilkinson complained of being trapped in an excremental Hitchcock nightmare. Gutters clogged with birdmuck. Smell. Noise. They couldn't sell their properties to move away either as no-one wanted them.

Finally, in December 2012 Lancaster Magistrates imposed a 2-year ASBO on Mr Wilkinson. Under its terms he was not allowed 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."
This meant that he was allowed to feed birds half a kilo of birdseed twice a day if he could do it over 100 metres away from his house, within two daily timeslots totalling two and a half hours, and never in the same place twice in any one day. 

ASBO Breeches
In July 2013 he was convicted on two charges of feeding birds within 100m of his home and one charge of feeding birds on Heysham Road after 5pm, in breech of his ASBO. He was also convicted of breaching a conditional discharge.  He was fined £265 and £105 costs.. 

In November 2013 Mr Wilkinson was given a four week suspended sentence and ordered to pay £100 costs and a £80 victim surcharge at Lancaster Magistrates Court for a succession of similar breeches. 

His recent 6 week sentence takes the suspended sentence into account, with additional time in respect of a number of subsequent breeches of his ASBO.

What next?
The Morecambe Visitor's campaign asks that Mr Wilkinson be released from prison and for other methods of intervention to be discussed by the relevant authorities.  They also ask for 'active and meaningful support for those in Morecambe who have suffered as a direct result of Mr Wilkinson’s bird feeding activities.'

I certainly hope that the prison system will treat him gently and release him early.  It remains to be seen if, upon his return, he will be amenable to adjusting his bird-feeding practices to make life less intolerable for his neighbours over the long-term, or indeed if he can.

Those who sympathise with him do have the option of helping him to support his feathered friends in other, less anti-social locations. Whether this, if it were achievable, would be enough to persuade him to change his habits and stay out of trouble permanently is impossible for this mere blogger to predict.

£4000 a month 
On average it costs £4000 a month to keep a man in prison in the UK. Mr Wilkinson is not accused of being violent or malicious or fraudulent or larcenous or predatory in any way;  he does not appear to have any criminal intention whatsoever. Sadly, local welfare budgets that might help to keep a man who isn't a criminal out of prison are faced with increasing demands whilst being cut daily to meet government- imposed austerity targets - but the Home Office's budget for imprisonment seems ever-expanding.

I hope, along with the Morecambe Visitor and many, many others, that the statutory and community agencies involved can find the means to come together again and find a new and non-custodial strategy to help Mr Wilkinson address his issues more constructively and find some respite from the troubles they inevitably bring him.  The Council and the judiciary have already resolved, with great difficulty, that it can't go on and I agree. Mr Wilkinson's neighbours have suffered for too many years. 

Thursday, 29 May 2014

Luneside residents win embankment victory

Persimmon Homes have now submitted an amended planning application for Luneside East. Their revised plan for 149 dwellings off Lancaster's St George's Quay now retains the embankment, which the developer originally proposed removing and has also withdrawn the proposal for direct vehicular access to Long Marsh Lane, keeping a pedestrian and cycle path instead.

The applications revised Design and Access Statement reads:

"Following on from the Arboriculture Impact Assessment, only a few low quality trees  now remain. In the main these are located on the Embankment which will be retained. Only a pedestrian / cycle footway will be provided through the existing gap."

Local residents had formed a campaign group to oppose Persimmon's original application to remove part of the embankment and its distinctive line of trees that serve as a natural defense against estuarine winds. They were also strongly opposed to a new vehicle access route from Long Marsh Lane, a view backed by the County Highways Department in their report on the original application.

Persimmon initially responded by appealing against the Tree Preservation Order the City Council had placed on the embankment's trees. The City Council advised them to go back to the drawing board. (See previous news item: "Luneside East housing plans set back pending review")

Hailing the news as 'A Victory for the Environment, the Local Community and Common Sense' local resident Julia Russell posted this message on the group's petition website at earlier today:

"Whilst it appears the trees will be retained, questions remain over how and by whom the embankment and the land bordering Long Marsh Lane will be managed. We are awaiting clarification on this and will keep this petition open until we know the future of the trees is 100% secure. 
"We have proposed the concept of a community-led and managed project, with various ideas to keep this space green as well as to increase its accessibility for all. We feel this is especially important as the site will be lacking in other public green open space. 
"As there will now be no housing facing onto Long Marsh Lane, there will be no direct vehicular access onto the lane, and the only access will be the cycle and pedestrian route which had originally been promised.
"Thank you for all your support - together we have made a difference."

• Persimmon's amended planning application can now be viewed on the Lancaster City Council website Planning Portal, Reference 13/01200/FUL

Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Local Cinema Round-Up for 28th May to 5th June by Peter Clarke

For up to date local cinema links and day-by-day  listings of what's showing on local screens every week visit the Virtual-Lancaster Cinema Page. Read on for the weekly round-up, and reviews.

New releases shown locally during this period are the comedy western A Million Ways to Die in the West (15); the excellent science fiction drama Edge of Tomorrow (12A) and, somewhat belatedly, the drama Heaven is for Real (PG).

Films that have come to the end of their screening are Pompeii, Sabotage, The Amazing Spider-Man, The Other Woman and Rio 2.

Again this is a good period for catching a good family movie. Showing are Maleficent; Postman Pat: The Movie; The LEGO Movie and Legends of Oz: Dorothy's Return. Also we see the return for the weekend of Frozen and Escape from Planet Earth.

A curious film well worth catching this period is the Musical Comedy Frank being shown for much of this time at the Dukes.


Bad Neighbours
Director: Nicholas Stoller
Certificate: 15
Cast Includes: Seth Rogen, Jake Johnson, Zac Efron, Rose Byrne
Released as 'Neighbors' outside the UK, this is a comedy about Mac Radner (Rogen), his wife Kelly (Byrne) and young baby and the disruption they face when a college fraternity led by Teddy (Efron) moves in next door. Initially relations between the neighbours are not too bad but increasingly the frat boys work to ruin their family life and the Radner's give as good as they get. The film is a bawdy comedy as the tit-for-tat acts of sabotage escalate to hilarious (and possibly offensive) effect. One of the better Frat house comedies.

Director: Chris Buck
Certificate PG
Cast Includes Kristen Bell, Idina Menzel, Josh Gad,Alan Tudyk, Jonathan Groff
This Disney musical animation is loosely based on the fairy tale 'The Snow Queen' who has condemned a kingdom to eternal winter. It is up to Anna (sister to the snow queen) and a loner Kristoff to undertake an epic journey to find the Snow Queen and convince her to lift the icy spell. This is a magical movie destined to become a classic. It will appeal to families and children of all.

Director: Gareth Edwards
Certificate: 12A
Cast Includes: Aaron Taylor-Johnson, David Strathairn, Bryan Cranston, Elizabeth Olsen, Juliette Binoche
Godzilla rises again with an excellent cast and plenty of special effects as cities are destroyed. Joe Brody (Cranston) is a physicist who investigates the events at a Japanese nuclear facility where Godzilla is accidentally released. It is his soldier son Ford (Taylor-johnson) who battles the beast as it stalks San Francisco. There is some excellent performances, especially from Cranston and the director tells the story from a human viewpoint. Indeed we don't get a good glimpse of the monster till the latter half of the film. A spectacular disaster movie and one of the best re-telling of the story of Godzilla.

Director: Robert Stromberg
Certificate: PG
Cast Includes: Angelina Jolie, Miranda Richardson, Elle Fanning, Sharlto Copley, Sam Riley
In part a re-telling of the tale of sleeping beauty but from the point of view of the villain of the story, Maleficent (Jolie). Maleficent was driven to evil following an act of betrayal which cost her the ability to fly. She battles to save her shadowy forest kingdom and plots revenge by placing a curse on the infant Aurora (Fanning), daughter to the king. Aurora herself becomes caught in the conflict between forest and human kingdoms. This is a rather dark fantasy for a Disney film, but a great tale with powerful characters and impressive special effect.

X-Men: Days of Future Past
Director: Bryan Singer and Matthew Vaughn
Certificate: 12A
Cast Includes: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Patrick Stewart, Hugh Jackman, Jennifer Lawrence, Ian McKellen, Peter Dinklage
The film starts in the year 2023 where a war has resulted in the near destruction of all mutants. Trask (Dinklage), leader of Trask Industries, had developed robot soldiers that can destroy mutants under the Sentinel Program. The mutants send Wolverine (Jackman) back to the year 1973 in order to stop Mystique (Lawrence) from killing Trask as it was this death that resulted in the creation of the Sentinel Program. This is a fine movie worthy of the X-Men franchise that will not disappoint.

For up to date local cinema links and day-by-day  listings of what's showing on local screens every week visit the Virtual-Lancaster Cinema Page.

Let Us Entertain You - Street Music for Bank Holiday Monday

Martha, Beatrice and Miriam from Brownedge St Mary's High School, Bamber Bridge, entertain the crowds at Lancaster's Horseshoe Corner on Bank Holiday Monday with a classical trio.

Photos: Alan Phillips.

Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Charmaine Childs , the Human Carousel raises smiles on Bank Holiday Saturday

Australian strong lady Charmaine Childs as "Betty Brawn" thrilled the crowd in Lancaster's Marketgate on Bank Holiday Saturday by showing her unique talent for picking up men. She hefted her volunteers bodily, had them trample on her tummy and finally picked up both at once as "The Human Carousel."

• Charmaine's website is (Strong Lady Productions)

All photos courtesy and © Alan Phillips

Monday, 26 May 2014

Meet Your New North West MEPs 2014

Three Labour, three UKIP and two Conservatives were elected as MEPS for the North West last night (full results here). 

The North West vote share was Labour, 34%, UKIP 27%, Conservatives 20%,  Green 7%, Liberal Democrat 6% and Others 5%.

The Liberal Democrats long-term MEP Chris Davies lost his set, as did the BNP's Nick Griffin.

Here's a quick 'snapshot' of both the new and re-elected MEPs), including global warming sceptic and leading UKIP MEP Paul Nuttall, who has his constituency offices in Lancaster. Mr Nuttall is also deputy leader of UKIP.

We've included their official web sites where we could find them, along with their Twitter accounts so you can follow their work. The North West is represented in the European Parliament by eight MEPs, elected every five years.

Jacqueline Foster - Conservative (Re-elected)
Jacqueline Foster was first elected as one of three Conservative MEPs for the North West of England in 2009. She is the Conservative Spokesman on the Transport & Tourism Committee and is also Deputy Leader of the Conservative MEPs.

She is also Vice President of the Animal Welfare Parliamentary Intergroup; Vice President of the Sky & Space Parliamentary Intergroup and a member of the EU-US Parliamentary Delegation with the United States.

Web: Twitter:

European Parliament Page:

Sajjad Karim  - Conservative  (Re-elected)

Sajjad says his earliest political memory is campaigning for Margaret Thatcher and his local Conservative MP at the age of seven in his home borough of Pendle. In the European Parliament he has been involved in matters regarding industry, research and is the Tory Energy Spokesman on Legal Affairs

Web: Twitter:

European Parliament Page:

Theresa Griffin - Labour

A former Liverpool City councillor, Theresa has been a Labour Party member for over 25 years and an active campaigner at local, CLP,  national and European levels.  She is currently Deputy Chair of the NW Regional Labour Party and represents NW CLPs on the National Policy Forum.

She describes herself as a committed trade union activist and  has campaigned closely with all unions on employment rights, rights for young people, equality and against the BNP, EDL and far-right.

Web: Twitter:

Afzal Khan - Labour

Manchester's former Lord Mayor, Mr Khan is Labour's first Muslim MEP and has worked for the Labour Party on many levels.

He left school with no qualifications and worked as a labourer in a mill before returning to education, then spending three years as a police officer with Greater Manchester Police before going on to study law and qualifying as a solicitor.

Web: Twitter:

Julie Ward - Labour

The founder of Jack Drum Arts, a poet and community/cultural activist who strongly advocates social change via empowerment of ordinary people, Julie was politicised in the North West under Thatcher. "I'm so proud to be elected as one of three Labour MEPs to represent the North West in the European Parliament," she says. "The last year has been an amazing new journey.

"From the factory floor to directing a disability organisation and co-founding a workers' arts collective; from Manchester to Lancashire, Cumbria and north-east England (via Brazil, Belfast and Moldova!); my work and life experience enables me to understand the challenges faced by those from all walks of life," she says.


Louise Bours - UKIP

Louise Bours trained as an actress and singer at Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts, and went on to appear in BrooksidePeak Practice and Band of Gold in addition to performing in West End musicals and fronting 1940s big bands.

She previously served as councillor on Congleton borough and town councils and was elected Mayor of Congleton in 2006.

Prioer to her election she told the Chester Chronicle she would have a Brussels-based team but intends to spend most of her time in the North West, supporting local people on their doorstep. “How can you help anybody if you are completely detached sitting in an office in Brussels?” she mused.

“We want to shake off the BNP in blazers thing,” the single mother says of claims by some that UKIP is racist, and points out that former members of far right parties are banned from joining UKIP. She pointed out to the Chronicle that her father is actually Dutch and her full name is Louise van der Bours.

Paul Nuttall - UKIP (Re-elected)

A global warming sceptic, Paul is UKIP’s youngest ever Chairman, youngest ever MEP and is a member of Young Independence. He is a former history lecturer and played football for Tranmere Rovers in his youth.

With his constituency office in Lancaster, as a UKIP MEP, he says his mandate is to do himself and every other British MEP out of a job by helping to get the UK out of the costly and what he describes as the "undemocratic" European Union he has just been voted into again by democratic vote.

Over the next five years, he says he is committed to working tirelessly on behalf of those who elected him into office. As well as defending the UK’s interests in the European Parliament, Paul says he will campaign in Britain so UKIP can make a breakthrough at Westminster.

In September 2013 he argued Labour had abandoned working class voters, and UKIP was now the official oppostiion to Labour in the North West.

He also recently warned that the reduction in mobile roaming charges brought in by the European Union was not as good a deal as it sounded, arguing it would lead to higher domestic charges for mobile use.

Web: Twitter:

European Parliament Page:

Steven Woolfe - UKIP

Steven is the UKIP Economics Spokesman. A former lawyer in the City of London who spent the past few years as general counsel for hedge fund managers, he now acts as a legal and regulatory consultant to financial institutions.

"I believe that freedom is a right not a dream and that the European Union has no right to take away a nation's right to self determination, democratic freedoms and sovereignty by stealth and without consent of the people," he says. "That is why I campaign that Britain leaves the EU."

Official web site: Twitter:

• The full European Election results can be found here:

• Full contact details for all your North West MEPs can be found here: (This page had not been updated to reflect all the above MEPs on Monday 26th May

European Parliament Elections 2014 - North West Results

The Members of the European Parliament for the North West UK elected in May 2014 are:

Jacqueline Foster (re-elected), Sajjad Karim (re-elected),

Theresa Griffin, Afzal Khan, Julie Ward

Louise Bours, Paul Nuttall (re-elected), Steven Woolfe

The votes in the North West UK Region were cast as follows:

Party Votes % MEPs +/-
Labour 594,063 33.86 (+13.46) 3 +1
UK Independence Party 481,932 27.47 (+11.62) 3 +2
Conservative 351,985 20.06 (-5.56) 2 -1
Green 123,075 7.01 (-0.68) 0 0
Liberal Democrat 105,487 6.01 (-8.25) 0 -1
British National Party 32,826 1.87 (-6.13) 0 -1
An Independence From Europe 26,731 1.52 (0.00) 0 0
English Democrats 19,522 1.11 (-1.31) 0 0
Pirate Party 8,597 0.49 (0.00) 0 0
NO2EU 5,402 0.31 (-1.12) 0 0
Socialist Equality Party 5,067 0.29 (0.00) 0 0