30 November 2005

30 November 2005

Preying in cemetery

A POWERFUL bird of prey has escaped from its handler and made itself at home in a cemetery.

The Harris hawk, a native of the US, has been spotted in a number of cemeteries over the past three months, prompting fears for local wildlife.

In the past few weeks, the raptor, which has a four-foot wingspan, has taken up residence in Verdant Lane Cemetery, Catford.

John McDaid, of George Street, Lewisham, was visiting a relative's grave when he heard a "tinkling" overhead.

Mr McDaid said: "It had a bell and a piece of leather attached to its foot. I called it and it looked down at me."
He quipped: "I'd better leave my toupee behind next time."

Harris hawks were brought to this country in the last century as hunting birds and live on creatures up to the size of ducks, owls and rabbits.

In the UK they are all kept in captivity. Neal Fowler, of the Independent Bird Register, said: "We have someone in Catford trying to catch this bird but we don't know who it belongs to.

"It is probably in the cemetery because it's quiet, and there is plenty to feed on, like squirrels and pigeons."

Keith Noble, of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, said: "It's bigger and more powerful than the sparrowhawks and kestrels you normally see around Lewisham."

Mr Noble added that while the bird would not "devastate" local wildlife there was always a problem with escapees because they did not fit in with native species.

Anyone who sees the bird should call the Independent Bird Register on 0870 6088500.

Advice to help elderly

OLDER people from ethnic minorities can benefit from a new advice service.

Age Concern Lewi-sham launches its new initiative today, aimed exclusively at the borough's black and ethnic minority community.

Three drop-in advice centres have already been established at the Turkish Elders Club, St Laurence Church Hall, Catford, the Calabash Day Centre, Catford, and at Cinnamon Court, Deptford.

Age Concern hopes the new service will complement these and provide "timely, effective and appropriate advice" for the elderly.

Advice co-ordinator Jeanne Wilson added: "We hope this service will reach even more isolated elders.

"Age Concern is aiming to offer them access to our high-quality advice service."

The new service is being funded by £48,000 from the Department for Work and Pensions.

To make an appointment call 020 8690 9050.

Olympic hopeful feared police would end dream

AN INTERNATIONAL sprinter who was mistaken for an armed robber feared heavy-handed police tactics would end his Olympic dream.

Great Britain 100m runner James Ellington was dragged from his car and tied up by armed police in Bellingham because they thought he was a suspect.

Now the 20-year-old has told how he feared his career could have been at risk due to the "excessive force" used by the police officers.

Mr Ellington was on his way home from visiting a friend, in Bromley Road, Catford, when he saw five police cars on his tail.

The cars surrounded him as he got to the Beckenham Hill estate, ordering him to pull over.

The promising sprinter, who finished fifth in last year's European under-23 championships, was dragged from his car.

He claims he was then thrown to the ground and kneed in the back before having his hands tied.

Mr Ellington, who harbours ambitions of competing in the 2008 Olympics, suffered knee and back injuries.

He said: "It was horrible. I was thinking my career could be in danger.

"I have never been in trouble with the police in my life. I don't know why they went after me."

After his 20-minute ordeal on November 22, police realised they had the wrong man and released Mr Ellington.

The Bellingham resident claims the officers apologised and said they were "only doing their job" but he was not offered any first-aid care.

Mr Ellington, who has now made a formal complaint against the police, added: "I accept they have a job to do but they don't need to use excessive force.

"If they are not 100 per cent sure they shouldn't be dragging people from cars."

Scotland Yard say they will investigate any complaint received.

Council ‘hid’ its housing report

AN OPPOSITION leader has criticised Lewisham Council for "hiding" an independent report which criticised its housing repair services.

The Audit Commission findings criticise Lewisham's maintenance standards and says the council will struggle to achieve its Decent Homes target by 2010.

Liberal Democrat leader Councillor Mark Morris is unhappy councillors have not had a chance to quiz council chiefs on the report, six months since it entered the public domain.

Published in April, the report makes a number of damning conclusions.

It says the council:

Cannot demonstrate it achieves value for money in its repairs and maintenance service;

Has no consistent track record of delivering service improvement;

Does not always comply with its own policies and procedures;

May not achieve the Decent Homes target by 2010.

Morris, who represents Downham ward, believes members should have had greater access to the report.

He said: "The council is always willing to boast about complimentary reports but it seems coy about releasing this information.

"It is appalling this has been hidden from us and not been properly discussed by full council."

The report also says the council's gas repair service is "weak" and almost five per cent of tenants remain at "unnecessary risk".

Cllr Morris added: "This report just confirms what I hear from people during my surgeries every week.

"I have known people who have had to wait for more than a week for heating and gas repairs."

The report concludes by saying Lewisham provides a "fair service which has uncertain prospects for improvement".

Lewisham Council says the report's recommendations "are being addressed".

A spokesman said: "We feel the report did not put into context the challenges faced by an inner-city borough or recognise plans already in place to improve services.

"The report was published on the Audit Commission's website and was circulated and discussed with our tenants' representatives."

The Audit Commission is an independent body charged with making sure taxpayers receive value for money.

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