LESLIE Harrison, defiant feeder of pigeons in Portadown town centre, saved the lives of two men in his youth as an auxiliary member of the fire service, it emerged this week.
And because of those historic acts of courage, a man phoned the Portadown Times this week - calling himself ‘John’ - to say that, should Leslie be prosecuted for feeding the birds, he would pay the fine.
“Portadown needs non-conformist heroes like Leslie,” he added. “He adds a bit of colour and action to the town centre, which certainly needs them nowadays. I remember that his name appeared in the local press many years ago when he saved the life of a man when he was in the fire service. The council should leave him alone - he’s doing no harm.”
Leslie was happily feeding the pigeons on Monday afternoon, and afterwards confirmed that he had, in fact, been involved in rescuing two men in John Street - at different times - from fires. (John Street was one of the old town centre streets, where Magowan Buildings now stands).
And he insisted he would rather go to jail “than pay any stupid fine - it’s not as if I’ve stolen or been involved in violence.”
“Somebody from the council came up to me in the town centre a couple of months ago and warned me I was breaking the law,” said Leslie. “I haven’t heard from them since, and I’m not stopping anyway. It’s a great hobby of mine and the birds know me. This man’s offer to pay the fine is typical of the support I have received. I appreciate the gesture, but one way or the other, I’m paying no fine.”
He then took a reporter from the Portadown Times to his home and showed us a framed cutting from the paper. It showed that - as a young member of the auxiliary fire service (“I was under age at the time but never let on”) - he attended a fire and carried a Mr William Cummings (82) from a fire at John Street, helped by Roy Harrison (his brother) and Jim Flack. “It was about 1960 as far as I remember,” he said. “I kept the cutting and am very proud of it.”
He added that he did the same two or three years later when the famous Patsy ‘Badger’ Hamill was trapped in a fire in John Street, “but that’s what we were trained for”.
Said ‘John’, “Portadown would be so much the poorer without characters like John Harrison. If the council insists on prosecuting him, I’ll pay the fine. But I hope it doesn’t come to that. Let him feed the birds.”
However, the borough council is unrelenting in its determination to stop Leslie feeding the pigeons and is pursuing legal action. A statement from the Civic Centre said, “Regarding feeding of the pigeons a fixed penalty notice has been issued which has not been paid. Legal proceedings are pending.
“The council recognises that opinion on the feeding of pigeons is very divided with some seeing this as a nuisance and some not. However, we want to remind people that we received complaints from members of the public who did not want to walk through flocks of pigeons and their excrement. We took action accordingly including asking the person to stop.”