Case study 28: Council pursues terminally ill woman for feeding pigeons in her garden

My friend died on 30 August 2022 having spent years battling a CPN issued by Kingston Council for feeding pigeons in her own garden. Following her challenging the CPN and multiple court cases, the council then started a new court case in September 2021 against her to have her evicted from the property.

She lived in her council property in Kingston for nearly 30 years and had always enjoyed feeding the birds in her lovely garden. She was a well-known, experienced pigeon rescuer and loved all animals and nature.

My friend made complaints about illegal building work taking place in the block of flats where she lived, and a council environmental health officer visited the flats. The environmental health officer visited on a few occasions and gave advice about bird feeding, and my friend complied with everything. There did not seem to be an issue.

However, she was then contacted by a lead ASB officer, who advised he spent many years in the Met Police and needed to visit. This was when she learned they were trying to issue her with a CPN. My friend’s neighbours advised they had been contacted and encouraged to submit complaints about pigeons. This man was very intimidating and pushy and my friend was terrified, her anxiety went through the roof. He was very difficult to contact and would turn up unexpectedly expecting access.

My friend and I and many others believe that the CPN was not a result of genuine complaints, but as a response to my friend’s complaints about an illegal outbuilding which had recently been built by a neighbour on council-owned land without obtaining the required free holder’s consent, my friend was also objecting to a planned loft conversion which would have affected her water supply and tenancy. The council were not responsive to her complaints and had ignored her for some months until she wrote to the head of the council at the time about the dismissive treatment she had been given.

My friend was in very poor health. She had a lung and heart condition as well as osteoporosis and a connective tissue disorder. She also struggled with anxiety and depression. Around 2018 she had been given a terminal prognosis and she planned to wind down her pigeon rescue efforts as her health deteriorated and live out her days quietly in the home she loved. The council was aware that she was terminally ill, yet continued to pursue the CPN and insist on visits and court action despite her many hospital appointments and often being bed bound. I had to contact the council on the occasions they refused to reschedule visits when she had advised she had specialist medical appointments or was just too ill to answer the door.

My friend challenged the CPN and had to attend court cases. She was £1.60 over the threshold to be granted legal aid so had no legal representation, but she was determined to fight the CPN as there had never been any complaints about her in the decades she had lived there and she knew she had not done anything wrong. Her health was deteriorating though and she was forced to attend court hearings with her oxygen tank in a shopping trolley.

By encouraging complaints from residents, the council stirred up a campaign of harassment against my vulnerable friend in the years before she died. There was no evidence of a pigeon issue, and there were farcical allegations made about her, such as extreme stories of her making physical threats to the two neighbours who had been doing property alterations without the necessary permissions. At time when she was supposed to have been physically threatening these neighbours, she could barely walk. She was constantly filmed and photographed when she was outside and a blink camera was set up that was directed through her bathroom window to record her conversations and activities inside her home. However, she was supported by many local residents who wrote to support her case and praised her kind nature.

There was so much about the council’s conduct that was shocking. One of the council’s solicitors requested medical evidence when my friend asked for a two-week extension for a court hearing and then proceeded to contact her medical team using the information that had been provided, and shared sensitive, unproven details about the case against my friend with them, and shared various instructions apparently from the judge. When the medical team questioned why the council solicitor was instructing them and not the judge, the solicitor was thankfully removed from the case, but data protection regulations had been breached to try and discredit her.

It became difficult to contact her in 2022 as she was unable to access her emails, her mobile phone had broken and she was mostly bed bound. The last time we spoke she had two broken bones in her spine and was experiencing great difficulty with her breathing. The council were still trying to evict her. I was then unable to contact her by phone and only learned of her death when I saw a post by another friend on a social media platform.