A UNIVERSITY academic and wildlife specialist was convicted of criminal damage after breaking the window of a derelict shop in a bid to free trapped pigeons.

Doctor Michael Costello, who has a PhD and a first class honours degree in zoology, was handed a six-month conditional discharge at Basildon Crown Court Costello is a volunteer for an organisation that specialises in freeing trapped animals.

He received a call on January 29 from a woman who said pigeons had been trapped inside an abandoned shop in Southend High Street for about five days.

Costello, 69, of Lewisham, travelled to the shop, which is owned by Levar Commerical Finance Limited.

He took out tools to break a back window, but was spotted by a woman who phoned police.

He was arrested before he could free the birds.

The court heard that a day later the building’s owners contacted the RSPCA to free the pigeons Costello told the court that at the time of the incident he believed he had a duty to free the birds under section four of the Animal Welfare Act.

He pleaded guilty to criminal damage.

But Costello, who has published a book called the World Of Birds, said he felt he should never have been prosecuted for the incident.

He said: “I have been rescuing animals for about 40 years.

“I was told the animals had been there for about five days.

“Usually, birds will die about this time if they do not have access to food and water. The way I see it, it is like seeing a dog at the point of death, trapped in a hot car on a summer’s day, and breaking the window to save its life.

“I don’t think I should have been prosecuted.”

Costello carries a large trolley with him that contains a bird rescue kit, including a cardboard pet carrier and a net, in case he is called to an emergency.

He added: “I consider it a matter of duty for us to help distressed animals.

“I don’t necessarily consider this my life’s work, but I can’t just pass by when I see an animal suffering.”

Costello stressed he was not asked to attend the incident by his employer. He said his details had been passed to the Southend woman by a third party.