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Fathers 4 Justice

Fathers 4 Justice (or F4J) began as a fathers’ rights organisation in the United Kingdom. The United Kingdom branch was temporarily disbanded in January 2006, following reports of an alleged plot by members to kidnap the son of then Prime Minister Tony Blair. Three months later, in May 2006, the group reformed and protested during the live broadcast of the BBC lottery show "The National Lottery: Jet Set".

History

Fathers 4 Justice was founded in the UK by Matt O'Connor, a marketing consultant and father. O'Connor had become incensed with family law after a court barred him from seeing his young sons outside of a contact centre, following separation from his wife in 2000. On 17 December 2002, O'Connor and a small group of supporters staged their first protest by storming the Lord Chancellor's Office dressed as Father Christmas. In January 2003 O'Connor officially founded Fathers 4 Justice. Initially the group targeted the homes of family court judges and family lawyers' homes and offices with traditional protests.

F4J has claimed to champion the cause of equal parenting, family law reform and equal contact for divorced parents with children. F4J protestors interrupted the UK national lottery draw in May 2006. F4J is well-known for its campaigning techniques of dramatic protest stunts, usually dressed as comic book superheroes and frequently scaling public buildings, bridges and monuments. They have also protested by handcuffing two government ministers.

Fathers 4 Justice founded branches in the Netherlands and Canada in 2004, and in the USA and Italy during 2005.

The protest form that has most characterised Fathers 4 Justice has been its members dressing as comic book superheroes and other easily recognisable characters to scale public buildings and monuments. Stunts included supporters storming courts dressed in Father Christmas outfits, clapping the Government's ‘Children’s Minister’ in handcuffs, and most notably group member Jason Hatch climbing onto Buckingham Palace dressed as Batman. Such activities have earned the group a place in popular culture. For example, two costumed superheroes were mistaken for father's rights activists in the 2005 short comedy movie, Spider-Plant Man. The choice of the superhero costumes was based on the claim that "fathers have the role of superhero in the lives of children".

Activities

On 21 October 2003, campaigners Eddie Gorecki and Jolly Stanesby scaled the Royal Courts of Justice, dressed respectively as Batman and Robin. The following day, the group’s members rallied through London around a military tank in solidarity with Goreckwi and Stanesby.

A significant escalation in the protesting style occurred nine days later when group member David Chick scaled a crane near Tower Bridge, London dressed as Spider-Man. The Metropolitan Police set up a cordon around the area that disrupted traffic through some of East London for several days. Chick was subsequently cleared and published a ghost-written autobiography in February 2006.

On 19 May 2004, a major alert was caused when two members of the group threw purple flour bombs at Tony Blair during Prime Minister's Questions at the House of Commons. Following the House of Commons incident The Times wrote that the group "has succeeded in becoming the most prominent guerrilla pressure group in Britain ... within eighteen months of its founding."

Protests of a similar nature occurred outside the UK, a protest by a member dressed as Robin the Boy Wonder was held for twelve hours on the Pattullo Bridge in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. On 6 May 2005 the group made headlines again after a member dressed as Superman climbed up scaffolding in Old City Hall in Toronto, Ontario to unfurl a banner.

In November 2005, the group received negative publicity when the prime-time ITV programme Tonight With Trevor McDonald exposed some of its members as violent and obnoxious in their behaviour. However, it was claimed that these were never members in the first place and the programme gave no right to reply. Some members were expelled but the organisation defended its position and attacked the documentary. On 23 November 2005, Fathers 4 Justice ended its truce with CAFCASS and the Child Support Agency, calling for a public inquiry into family law.

During January 2006 the British newspaper The Sun published a story in which it claimed that members on the fringes of Fathers 4 Justice planned to kidnap Leo Blair, the young son of former Prime Minister Tony Blair 'for a few hours as a symbolic gesture'. The Police said that they were not aware of such a plan, but probably it had never got beyond 'the chattering stage'. Downing Street refused to confirm or deny the existence of a plot as it does not comment on matters concerning the Prime Minister's children.

Fathers 4 Justice founder Matt O'Connor condemned the alleged action and threatened to shut down the campaign because of it. Within days, Fathers 4 Justice had been disbanded.

On May 20 2006, Fathers 4 Justice protested during the showing of the BBC lottery show "The National Lottery: Jet Set". The show had to be taken off-air for several minutes after six Fathers 4 Justice protesters ran from the audience onto the stage displaying posters. The protesters were soon removed from the studio and the lottery draws continued as usual, albeit rushed so the show finished in time for the annual Eurovision Song Contest. A spokesman for the group stated afterwards, "Tonight marks the dramatic return of Fathers 4 Justice".

There was no widely publicised further action until 29 November of that year, when veteran campaigner Jonathan Stanesby climbed onto the roof of family court Judge David Tyzack's home, dressed as Santa Claus. The story was publicised after Stanesby claimed the judge was holding a shotgun. Judge Tyzack, however, retorted that he had taken the gun out thinking the noise on the roof was a bird. Stanesby explained to reporters he was still restricted to seeing his daughter one weekend every two weeks.

On Sunday December 10, 2006 Fathers-4-Justice US staged a re-enactment of the Boston Tea Party, titled the 'Boston "Custo-Tea" Party' in protest at perceived corruption in the family court system in which lawyers provoke battles between parents over custody of children for profit.

On Sunday June 8, 2008 two fathers from Father's for Justice UK climbed onto the roof of Labour deputy leader Harriet Harman's house wearing superhero-style costumes. The characters were "Captain Conception" and "Cash Gordon". Mark Harris who was the "Cash Gordon" character, protested that he wanted change that would allow fathers to have the same right as mum's new boyfriend. He also said that they would not come down unless Harman read his book, "Family Court Hell". On Wednesday July 9th another set of fathers, this time in spiderman and batman outfits scaled Harman's roof and draped a banner "Stop The War On Dads". Nigel Ace who was the spiderman character voiced four measures of reform via a loudhailer on the roof. They were condemned for it in the House of Commons the next day at Prime Minister's Questions. Harman claimed the group had never sought democratic dialogue with her, but O'Connor claimed he had sought a meeting through his MP Mark Oaten and been ignored.

Breakaway groups from F4J, such as Real Fathers For Justice and more recently New Fathers For Justice, have emerged as Government stonewalling and the laughing refusal of the family law courts to reform in any way have led to frustration and pressure-group style squabblings. The groups been known to organise demos of their own, but bereft of O'Connors input. In September this year a breakaway group from F4J, calling themselves 'New Fathers For Justice' lobbied Dawn Primarolo with a banner reading "KIDS NEED REAL DADS NOT DAWN'S LESBO DADS". Gay rights organisations were outraged and the Pink News quoted a protestor as saying gays and lesbians should not have children. '' An honest belief persists within F4J, whose activities were quickly turned over to Special Branch as it became clear rank and file police officers either had little wish to prosecute members or were unequal to the task of preventing deeply embarrassing security breaches, that discord within the group has been deliberately aggravated by agents provocateurs. This is hardly uncommon in pressure groups involved in anti-Government demonstrations, but to what extent, if any, it has been allowed within F4J or is responsible for any discord is not yet known.

Impact

Fathers 4 Justice's main impact remains upon media coverage and legal treatment of fathers' rights issues in the UK. The use of high-profile and disruptive stunts has garnered significant UK media coverage. Matt O'Connor has sold the rights to his story to Harbour Pictures, the firm behind the film "Calendar Girls". It has been written by "Shameless" writer Danny Brocklehurst.

A significant, unintended result of the F4J campaign has been the exposure of flaws in security at high profile British institutions such as Buckingham Palace and the House of Commons, at a time when the British government is particularly concerned with the threat of terror attacks by al-Qaeda-affiliated groups.

Criticism

Critics of the organisation claim that the inequalities which F4J claim to fight against are exaggerated. Due to the fact that the family courts operate in secret, it is impossible to substantiate this except by anecdotal evidence. Statistics do exist though for custody outcomes, are listed on the website of the shared parenting information group and show results overwhelmingly if not all-but exclusively in favour of mothers.

Two female commentators, Decca Aitkenhead and Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, writing for left-leaning newspapers the Guardian and the Independent, have issued vitriolic polemics against the group as part of their editorial brief to stoke controversy and pose striking opinions.

Individuals within the F4J group are frequently singled out and 'turned over' by newspapers for their individual failings, and the public broadcasting channel, the BBC, has commissioned documentaries recording opposing groups criticisms and portraying the organisation as reactionary.

Unsurprisingly, Downing Street and the legal establishment are often critical of the groups aims and methods.

The groups tactics in protest have gone beyond that of sit-down style peaceful protest. A campaign of painting the doors of the offices of one of the groups chief targets, CAFCASS, attracted criticism from CAFCASS itself. CAFCASS is an organisation of probation officers who report on where a court must order a child to live, go to school, indeed all and any aspect of their life. F4J complain the organisation and its employees are biased by virtue of politicised training, and practically democratically unaccountable. Incidents of pushing rancid meat through letterboxes, hate mail and spoken insults were apparently complained of by CAFCASS staff in relation to the campaign. Staff were 'named and shamed' by the group, which was resented and compared to the militant tactics of animal rights campaigns.

At the dawn of the groups emergence, it was said that fake bombs had been sent to family lawyers, but that news of this was suppressed, by virtue of a widely known but unwritten code amongst newspapers that the reporting of terrorist style incidents, other than those which demand attention by their success, is considered irresponsible and against the public interest, as it serves only to award the would-be terrorists the publicity they crave, and so encourage more terrorist attempts.

F4J are apt to be scornful of the domestic violence industry and are quick to point to the politicisation of groups such as Womens Aid, a charity that purports to support victims of domestic abuse. Their criticism of the group is of its insistence on contentious propaganda - such as the '1 in 4' statistic, emergent from a one-off study by a female academic at Royal Holloway College, claiming a quarter of the UK female population has been a victim of 'domestic violence'. The politicisation of the 'DV' term and its broadening to include apparently undefinable psychological tactics that encompass potentially any human behaviour has also bred cynicism within a group that is by definition familiar with the use of claims of 'DV' in family courts, where tales of brutality are subject neither to jury law, press scrutiny, or any burden of proof except a reversed one that insists that 'in the interest of the child' any claim however wild be accepted, to the proclaimed end of caution. This has led to a kneejerk reaction by critics who accuse the group of being uncaring of women who are physically attacked.

As they have with many other democratic campaigns, the fascist British National Party recently tried to hijack F4J support by adopting the mantle of parental equality. This fast lead to claims by critics that the two groups were in some way linked. They are not, and the BNP's professed sympathy for F4J is particularly ironic as it was in Nazi Germany that the notion of deciding a child or family's fate according to the best interest of the child very early arose, endowing upon the Nazis courts and judges the same sweeping and fascistic powers presently enjoyed by Britain's family courts.

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