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British villagers go to court to muffle a cockerel that crows at 4 a.m.

The British have a passion for dogs. They use them as an excuse to take walks in inclement weather. But cockerels?That is another matter, as Catherine Duffin, who lives in the Devon hamlet of Tuckenhay, discovered to her dismay.

Mrs. Duffin is as fond of ''Cocky,'' her cockerel, as an Englishman is of his golden Labrador. The problem is that ''Cocky'' ran afoul of his neighbors because his internal alarm clock was out of kilter. It would go off as early as 4 a.m., a couple of hours before dawn.

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In no time, Mrs. Duffin's neighbors, the Anthony Harrison family, were clucking loudly over their lack of sleep.

Said Mr. Harrison to Mrs. Duffin: ''Your cockerel's driving me mad.''

But Mrs. Duffin ruffled Harrison's feathers by closing the door on him. Infuriated, Mr. Harrison kept pecking away at the problem until the local council was alerted. Sound equipment was brought to the Harrison's front bedroom and Cocky's decibels were measured. He turned in an operatic performance at 60 decibels.

So the council suggested that Cocky be put in a soundproof box every night. Mrs. Duffin was having nothing to do with that lark.

''I'd have to run like mad with a net to catch him'' in order to put him the box, she said. ''I couldn't do that.''

The council felt there was no alternative but to serve Cocky's owner with a noise abatement notice. She appealed. But the bench dismissed the appeal.

The Harrisons are not exactly crowing over their victory, but they think they might get a good night's sleep for a change.

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What of Cocky now?

Mrs. Duffin thinks she might have to give him away.

Clipping his wings - a procedure she might have to take so she could keep Cocky - was more than his male ego could stand, she thought.

''He would feel such a fool in front of the lady hens flapping his wings and getting nowhere,'' she said.

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