By ANDREW LEVY
Desperate to find his missing cat Wookie, Mike Harding put up posters throughout the neighbourhood offering a reward for its safe return.
And it was not long before he received a phone call.
Not from someone who had found the pet, however, but from the council saying he was breaking the law.
An official letter the following day accused him of causing ‘urban decay’ with his ‘fly-posting’ and ordered him to remove the signs immediately or face a £1,000 fine.
He rushed around the streets in sub-zero temperatures to tear down the posters and finally finished at 3am on Christmas Eve – six hours before the deadline he had been given.
Mr Harding, 44, a driving instructor from Bedford, said the woman caller told him he should not have put up posters.
‘I said I was really sorry. I didn’t know I was breaking any laws and I would take them down. She asked me for my address and it was all very affable – I thought they were sending me some guidance in the post.
‘But when I got home from work on December 23 at 8.30pm I found the letter warning I would be prosecuted if the posters weren’t removed by 9am on December 24 at the latest. I had to walk around town in the snow and ice when it was minus nine degrees.
‘I’m a law-abiding citizen yet I’m being threatened with a £1,000 fine for looking for my cat. You would think the council would have some compassion.’
Mr Harding, who lives with his partner Rachael Claridge, 32, has had the seven-year-old cat since it was a kitten.
Wookie went missing in late November and his owner immediately set about printing 35 posters which he attached to lampposts, trees and parking meters. Most were held in place with cable ties but when they ran out he used tacks on four trees.
The letter from Bedford Borough Council warned: ‘Fly-posting is unsightly and now considered to be a contributory factor to urban decay. Contravention of the Act may lead to a fine of up to £1,000. This warning will be kept on record and should any further offences be committed the council will prosecute.’
The authority defended its actions yesterday, saying: ‘Our environmental enforcement team discovered more than 20 posters. Some were nailed to trees. Mr Harding has removed the posters and we are satisfied that this matter has been resolved.’
Sadly for Wookie’s owner, however, the matter remains far from resolved. His cat is still missing.