Sunday, 1 February 2009

Judges do not enforce contact orders upon Mothers Official !



Judges do not enforce contact orders upon Mothers Official !


Sir Mark Potter


New F4J member Mark Harris wrote to the President of the Family Diviision, Sir Mark Potter, asking if he would like to meet with him and his daughters to detail just how the 33 family court judges that dealt with their case each failed them all during the fathers' ten year battle to see them.

Sir Mark Potter, ignored their request to meet but did detail in his long winded response that family court judges simply DO NOT ENFORCE ANY CONTACT ORDER UPON A MOTHER OR CHANGE RESIDENCE OF A CHILD SO THAT CHILD CAN HAVE BOTH PARENTS IN IT'S LIFE.

So there you have it, despite the intentions of the Children Act to shared parenting back in 1989, despite Parliament passing the Contempt Act so Civil orders can be enforced, Potty Potter (like his predecessors) will only make Contact Orders by consent.

No change in government, no new laws will succeed in reform of family law while tossers like POTTER and his corrupt members of the judiciary manipulate the legal process and Acts of Parliament in secret while treating mothers as above the law.

You cannot have 'some justice' in courts, either their is 'Justice' or 'Injustice', there is no middle ground.

Mark Harris


Quote:
PRESIDENT OF THE FAMILY DIVISION

SIR MARK POTIER PRESIDENT OF THE FAMILY DIVISION AND HEAD OF FAMILY JUSTICE

Mr Mark Harris

Address deleted
For privacy

19 January 2009

Dear Mr Harris,

Thank you for your letter of 4 December 2008.

In broad terms, it raises two matters. First, your own complaints and those of the membership of new Fathers 4 Justice in relation to their own treatment before the family courts. Second, a request that I take action to "return fairness to the Family Courts".

So far as the first matter is concerned, as Head of the Family Division, my powers do not include review of individual cases during or after their progress through the courts. Such cases are subject to appeal procedures so far as any misapplication of the law or complaints of unfair process in the course of the proceedings are concerned. I have no right or power to interfere in such matters (unless sitting as an appellate judge in the case concerned). Similarly, in so far as complaints may be made of oppressive or inappropriate conduct on the part of a judge in the '~ourse of proceedings, other than simple misapplication of the law, such questions fall to be investigated under an established judicial complaint procedure.

On the wider front, namely the general content and the application and enforcement of the law in relation to applications for residence and contact in respect of children, which I believe to be the main substance of your concerns, again I lack the power to change the law, which is a matter for Parliament.
Such guidance as I can, and on occasions do, give by way of Practice Directions or Guidance to the judiciary generally is limited to matters of procedure rather than substance. In this area, the law under the Children Act is clear, namely that, in corning to decisions in relation to matters of residence and contact, or indeed any matter concerning children, the welfare of the child is to be regarded as the paramount consideration. Where those welfare interests lie has to remain a matter of judgment for the judge in the individual case.

Royal Courts of Justice Strand London WC2A 2LL Website www.iudiciarv.gov.uk

1

.




PRESIDENT OF THE FAMILY DIVISION

I know that this can give rise to feelings of frustration and concern on behalf of non-custodial parents, particularly, those adversely affected by noncompliance with the court's rulings by the principal carer. However, that is because, when it comes to the crunch, there are very few cases in which judges consider that the welfare of the child will be advanced by the sending of a carer to prison or the "reversal" of a residence order once made, though on occasions that requires and continues to be done. Again, howeyer, that "ill always be a matter for decision by the judge in the individual case and is not one which I (as opposed to parliament) am in a position to change.

In relation to the last two paragraphs of your letter, I am always willing to consider sensible proposals for reform of the Family Courts once I have seen these set out, and I have given public support to proposals for the admission of the press to family proceedings. However, as I understand the last but one paragraph of your letter, you are there in fact referring to reform of Family Law, in relation to which the position is as I have set it out above.

Finally, I am pleased to note that, as I would expect, you are personally opposed to any suggestion that judges' personal details should be circulated "in hope that something far worse than the protests may occur". I hope you will continue to use your influence to reject any such misguided suggestion.

Yours sincerely,

Royal Courts of Justice Strand London WC2A 2LL Website www.iudiciarv.gov.uk

2

Saturday, 26 July 2008

Harriet Harman to be called to give evidence in F4J Rooftop Trial, 27th August

Two Fathers 4Justice protestors have called Jack Dromey, the husband of the Deputy Leader of the Labour Party Harriet Harman, to give evidence at their trial at Camberwell Magistrates Court on Wenesday 27th August at 10.00am.

The pair are also issuing a witness summons for the Minister to appear and give evidence.

Jolly Stanesby and Mark Harris, both from Devon, pleaded not guilty to charges of harassment and failing to follow a police officers instructions.

F4J today said that the Minister would be targeted again in the near future and that she had seriously misled the public in the media and in the House of Commons with her comments.

Said a spokesman,'As the Minister for equality, all we are asking for is equal treatment for dads. Surely, that isn't too much to ask a Minister charged with ensuring parity for all citizens regardless of gender, race, colour or creed.'

In October 2007, Minister Margaret Hodge gave evidence against Mr Stanesby after he was accused of unlawful imprisonment after handcuffing himself to the Minister in 2004. He was found not guilty in a jury trial in Manchester.

Saturday, 14 June 2008

Why Father On The Roof Was a Role I had To Play

On sunday morning, just hours before he scrambled on to the roof of Harriet Harman's home dressed as a superhero, Mark Harris kissed and hugged his daughter Lisa and set off from the South Devon home they share.

"I told him I was proud of him," says Lisa, a 21-year-old wages clerk. "I said that however long he managed to stay up there, I would be cheering him on and sending him my love.'


In the end, Mark, who staged his weekend protest with fellow Fathers 4 Justice campaigner from Devon Jolly Stanesby, stayed on the roof of Ms Harman's elegant period home in Herne Hill, South London, for 10 hours - an hour for every year that his own case wasn't resolved by the courts

When he climbed down on Sunday night, he was immediately arrested and detained by police, leaving Mr Stanesby perched precariously on the slates, stubbornly insisting he wouldn't descend until Mark had been released.

But then as Lisa points out, brushes with the law are nothing new to her 49-year-old father. During the decade he spent fighting for full access to his three daughters after his wife walked out and took them with her, the driving instructor faced 133 court appearances before 33 different judges, two stints in jail and went on a hunger strike.

The irony is that Mark's case is now resolved: Lisa, his eldest, now lives with him. So does his 17-year-old daughter. Another daughter, aged 15, lives nearby with her mother, but visits at least twice a week. He now has everything he fought for.

But he still donned Superman's leotard, tights and cape because while he is free to talk about the horrors he suffered at the hands of the British justice system, other fathers are not. Last year, the Lord Chancellor ruled that family court proceedings must remain secret and therefore, argue some, unaccountable.

"He hasn't forgotten what he went through," says Lisa. "He still has a lot of anger about it and he wants to do what he can to help other fathers in the same position."

If it seems strange that Mark is still angry about his own ordeal, then, as Lisa is quick to remind anyone who asks, until she was 16 - and legally able to choose for herself which parent she wanted to live with - she hardly knew her father at all.

Her life has been blighted by years of enforced separation from the father she clearly adores.

"Most people look back on their childhood and remember family days out at the seaside and birthday parties," she says. "My recollections are of Mum, sour-faced in a suit, heading off for yet another court appearance and endless interviews with social workers and child psychologists, all telling me that I didn't have to see my dad if I didn't want to."

Speaking to the Daily Mail on a previous occasion, Mark explained: "I missed so much. They took my daughter's childhood, her formative years, from me. Lisa is 21 now. I didn't see her between the ages of 10 and 16. An awful lot happens in a child's life in that time and I missed it all."

Lisa, too, has suffered. For years, she believed her father had abandoned her and couldn't understand why.

"There were times when I needed a father figure - for reassurance and advice. There just wasn't one there."

There are many gaps in their shared pasts, but one memory they both recall vividly is how, on the day Lisa returned home to her father, she walked into her bedroom and threw out all the toys and mementoes Mark had clung on to from her childhood, laughing nervously as she did so.

"It struck me just how much time had passed and how far she had moved on," said Mark. "We might be father and daughter, but we were starting again from scratch."

And despite her bravado as she threw away the dolls and teddies, Lisa admits that, in fact, her heart was breaking.

"When I walked into my old bedroom and saw it was exactly as I had left it all those years ago, I wanted to sob," she says.

"If I had ever doubted dad's love for me, here was the proof of just how unfailing it was. I didn't dare cry, because if I did I thought I might never stop."

With their comic book character outfits and off-the-wall publicity stunt protests, it would be all too easy to dismiss the Fathers 4 Justice phenomenon out of hand.

The group formed in 2002 and champions the reform of Britain's family law system and equal parenting rights for separated couples. It doesn't help, of course, that many of the group are legally prevented from speaking out and defending themselves.

And yet the personal story behind the group's latest desperate attempt to be heard is a salutary reminder that, when family decision-making is handed over to the State, families can be ripped apart.

As Mark pointed out, he didn't walk out of his children's lives; he was ordered out by the secretive family courts. And when he objected, insisting upon his right to see them, he found himself on the wrong side of the law.

He married a former driving school pupil in 1986 after a whirlwind romance and Lisa was born the following year, her younger sisters arriving in 1989 and 1991. Back then in those heady days of early fatherhood, he could never have imagined that he would one day end up on national television protesting on top of a minister's home.

"When Lisa was born, I was overwhelmed with love," he recalled. "I felt the luckiest man alive. Being a father quickly became what defined me."

He was, he said, a "hands-on" father and aside from regular rows about his "overbearing" mother-in-law, he thought his marriage was happy too.

His wife, however, clearly didn't agree. One day in November 1993, he returned home to find the four-bedroom family home in Plymouth ransacked. Most of the furniture and ornaments, as well as his wife and children, had gone.

"Later, she calmly explained that she no longer loved me, but that I could see the children whenever I wanted," he said. "She seemed so cold and uncaring - I didn't recognise her.

"I took the children home with me for a few hours and they spent the time crying, wanting to know when they could have their lives back. I didn't know what to say to them, because I was as bewildered as they were."

Over the next two months, Mark saw the girls nearly every day. Then, one day, two months after she had left, his wife asked if she could speak to him.

"She told me that she deeply regretted what she had done and asked if I would take her back," said Mark. "I refused. I was too hurt and angry.

"The following day, she changed her telephone number and from then on she refused even to answer the door to me, let alone let the children see me."

Life soon became a round of court appearances. At first, Mark was granted unrestricted access. But at the same time his wife applied to have his visits reduced, saying it was "confusing" for the girls to see him.

The family court agreed and cut his access from three times a week to once a week and finally to once a fortnight.

A year after they separated, the couple divorced. And that year, 1996, Mark returned to court in a bid to see more of his daughters. This time, he asked if they could come and live with him. His wife retaliated by saying that seeing him was unsettling the girls.

The judge's response was astonishing by any standards: he severed all Mark's rights of access.

"I was devastated," he said. "But I couldn't let that stop me being a father to them."

To show he cared, he stood on the street and waved to them when their mother drove them to school each morning. Then his ex-wife took out an injunction to stop him. Still he carried on waving.

"I thought the whole ridiculous business would be cleared up at the next court hearing," he said.

Instead, in November 1997, when he turned up at court, he was led away in handcuffs and jailed for four months. "They said my waving was tantamount to stalking my wife."

On his first night in jail, he shared a cell with a murderer. "I pined for my girls," he said. "When I got out, it took me another year to convince the courts that I should be allowed to see the girls at all."

Finally, five years after being separated from Lisa and her younger sisters, Mark was granted permission to see them under the supervision of social workers. At first, Lisa refused to come, convinced that he hadn't seen her for so long because he didn't love her.

"It hurt to think she didn't want to see me. But I hoped she would eventually come round."

Then, in January 2001, at a court hearing he hoped would increase his children's visits, he was sentenced to 10 months in Pentonville Prison for contempt of court. His crime? Driving past his wife's house, trying to catch a glimpse of the girls between the six unsupervised visits he was allowed each year. He went on hunger strike for two weeks.

"I stopped only when I realised that if I died, I would never see my girls again."

In the end, it was Lisa, not the courts, who resolved the situation. Over the years, she admits, she had given up on her father. "We thought he didn't love us any more," she says.

When her father was jailed, it served only to reinforce what she says were her mother's words: "I told you he was a bad man."

She says: "Mum's hate for dad seemed to run so deep, to keep her happy and get the social workers off my back, I told them all I never wanted to see him again. Turning love to hate seemed easier."

Over the years, she occasionally saw her father on TV. "One day, I caught him being interviewed along with some other dads who were also banned from seeing their children," she said.

"As I listened to them all talk about how all they wanted was to be allowed to be fathers to their own kids, I felt a pang for my own dad and what we'd lost."

On March 21, 2001, she telephoned her father out of the blue, saying that she and her youngest sister were at a bus stop with their bags packed and wanted to come and live with him.

"Seeing Lisa again for the first time in six years was incredible," recalled Mark, who has written a book, Family Court Hell, about his experiences.

"The last time we were together, she was a little girl. Right then I didn't know how to speak to, or even how look at, the young woman before me, in make-up and high heels with her 6ft boyfriend in tow. In the end, we just fell into one another's arms and sobbed."

Back home, he called a High Court emergency hotline. "I managed to speak to a decent, and very humane, judge. I told him everything, he spoke to the girls, and 10 minutes later faxed through a temporary residency order. In court, the following week, he cleared every previous court order and injunction that had been passed in the past 10 years relating to our case."

For Lisa, the reunion was hard at first. "The last time I'd seen my dad I was 10 and carried a skipping rope. Now I was 16, a young woman with a boyfriend in tow.

"Dad looked older and worn down by it all. It was a shock to see how he had aged."

Today, she and her father are closer than ever, while her relationship with her mother is strained. "As soon as the police release him, he's coming straight home," she says. "I can't wait to see him."

Yet there is lingering regret too, for herself and others who have to experience a similar ordeal.

"I wish to God that my parents had avoided the courts from day one and simply shared us, the children they created together," she says. "Instead, complete strangers were allowed to get involved in our lives to such an extent that everyone lost sight of the needs of us, the three people they were fighting over. All I ever wanted was to be allowed to love them both," she says.

Harriet Harman may have been justified in refusing to meet last weekend's uninvited house guests and listen to their complaints, but, in the end, Lisa's words say it all.

Fathers 4 Justice campaigners storm Bristol Courts

Dozens of employees were evacuated from a Bristol family court today when Fathers 4 Justice campaigners stormed the building and a fire alarm was set off.Court and construction staff huddled outside Bristol County Court, in the high-rise Greyfriars building in the city centre, and waited for the fire service to arrive.



The protest, which began as a street demonstration, was joined by two Westcountry campaigners who had scaled the roof of deputy Labour leader Harriet Harman's home in Herne Hill, south London, earlier this week.

Jolly Stanesby, from Ivybridge, South Devon, and Mark Harris, from Plympton, were among about 30 banner-waving protesters dressed as various superheroes during the action calling for fathers' rights at Bristol County Court yesterday.

A dozen protesters dressed as Spiderman, Batman, Superman and The Incredibles forced their way into the court and chanted "What do we want? Justice. When do we want it? Now!"

A fire alarm was activated, although court staff could not confirm who was responsible, and nearly 100 staff flooded into the street outside.

Mr Stanesby said: "We always have a little get-together before Father's Day to put our message across."

After the courts were stormed, two police vans arrived, along with two fire engines, and the protesters left the building to continue their march. Fathers 4 Justice is a civil rights group which campaigns for parental equality and a father's right to see his children.

Mr Stanesby added: "Just because my ex decided to move on... shouldn't mean I don't get to see my child."

He said he and Mr Harris, who have been bailed by police since their rooftop protest, had written to Ms Harman to request a meeting with her.

"She's minister for justice and minister for women - how can those two things go together?"

Mr Harris said opening family courts to the public was one of the focal points of the Fathers 4 Justice campaign. He said: "Open up the courts so people can see the ridiculous decisions made against fathers. I was once sent to prison for waving at my daughters."

The demonstrators later unveiled a new poster campaign featuring superheroes.

Bristol County Court later released a statement, saying proceedings were disrupted for around 30 minutes and business then resumed as normal.

http://www.thisiswesternmorningnews.co.uk/displayNode.jsp?nodeId=247699&command=displayContent&sourceNode=249470&home=yes&more_nodeId1=249131&contentPK=20867099

Wednesday, 11 June 2008

Minister hit the roof at my protest

London Metro

The alarm clock went off at 2am on Sunday, then a second later the realisation of what I was about to do struck: I was probably going to make headlines during the day – and hopefully not for falling to my death.

After breakfast, I drove from my Plymouth home to pick up my fellow protester en route to the “target” in the capital. We arrived just before 8am and our crew were there. After a quick check, we found access to the rooftop. But what about the security that our target must have in place? What about the police marksmen, barbed wire, guard dogs and CCTV you would expect at the home of the deputy Labour leader? No, not a thing.

So, my partner in crime and I donned our superhero suits. It was all systems go. We took our banner and scaled ladders to get on to the roof. The road was silent. We wondered, at first, if anyone would see us. Then, about 30 minutes later, a young girl appeared in the garden opposite. She waved, then disappeared, before reappearing with mum, dad and siblings. Neighbours came out.

We waited, with still no sign of the occupants of the house. An hour after our climb, a car cruised by carrying what looked like plain-clothes police. A young officer appeared below.

I explained that Harriet Harman, the occupant of the house, had declared a year ago, as the then minister for justice, that family courts should be opened up to the public. He asked whether it would not have been better for us to write to her with our complaints. I said that I had done that twice, and had sent her a copy of a book written by myself and my daughter, Family Court Hell.

He asked what he could do to resolve matters and I passed him down a copy of my book. I asked him to give it to her. Ten minutes later, he reappeared, saying that Harman had declined to read the book. I decided to remain on the roof until she thought again.

Hours later, with a smile and a quick comment to the hordes of press, Harman left her house. If only she had agreed to look at the book and see for herself what had happened in my case (and countless others). If she had, she could have stayed at home in peace that sunny day and we would have been back in Devon in time for tea.

Mark Harris, 46, is a Fathers 4 Justice protester. He has been bailed by police investigating the protest.

Tuesday, 10 June 2008

Justice 4 my father, says daughter of rooftop protester

No one condones invading private property, but read the moving story of the man on Harriet Harman's roof who spent years fighting for the right to see his daughters ... only to find THEY wanted to live with HIM

On Sunday morning, just hours before he scrambled on to the roof of Harriet Harman's home dressed as a superhero, Mark Harris kissed and hugged his daughter Lisa and set off from the South Devon home they share.


'I told him I was proud of him,' says Lisa, a 21-year-old wages clerk. 'I said that however long he managed to stay up there, I would be cheering him on and sending him my love.'

In the end, Mark, who staged his weekend protest with fellow Fathers 4 Justice campaigner Jolly Stanesby, stayed on the roof of Ms Harman's elegant period home in Herne Hill, South London, for ten hours - an hour for every year that his own case wasn't resolved by the courts.

When he climbed down on Sunday night, he was immediately arrested and detained by police, leaving Mr Stanesby perched precariously on the slates, stubbornly insisting he wouldn't descend until Mark had been released.

But then as Lisa points out, brushes with the law are nothing new to her 49-year-old father. During the decade he spent fighting for full access to his three daughters after his wife walked out and took them with her, the driving instructor faced 133 court appearances before 33 different judges, two stints in jail and went on a hunger strike.


The irony is that Mark's case is now resolved: Lisa, his eldest, now lives with him. So does his 17-year-old daughter. Another daughter, aged 15, lives nearby with her mother, but visits at least twice a week. He now has everything he fought for.

But he still donned Superman's leotard, tights and cape because while he is free to talk about the horrors he suffered at the hands of the British justice system, other fathers are not.

Last year, the Lord Chancellor ruled that family court proceedings must remain secret and therefore, argue some, unaccountable.



Labour MP Harriet Harman leaves her house as Fathers 4 Justice campaigners Mark Harris and Jolly Stanesby, circled, continue their protest on the roof of her house

'He hasn't forgotten what he went through,' says Lisa. 'He still has a lot of anger about it and he wants to do what he can to help other fathers in the same position.'

If it seems strange that Mark is still angry about his own ordeal, then as Lisa is quick to remind anyone who asks, until she was 16 - and legally able to choose for herself which parent she wanted to live with - she hardly knew her father at all.

Her life has been blighted by years of enforced separation from the father she clearly adores.

'Most people look back on their childhood and remember family days out at the seaside and birthday parties,' she says. 'My recollections are of Mum, sour-faced in a suit, heading off for yet another court appearance and endless interviews with social workers and child psychologists, all telling me that I didn't have to see my dad if I didn't want to.'

Speaking to the Mail on a previous occasion, Mark explained: 'I missed so much. They took my daughter's childhood, her formative years, from me. Lisa is 21 now. I didn't see her between the ages of ten and 16. An awful lot happens in a child's life in that time and I missed it all.'

Lisa, too, has suffered. For years, she believed her father had abandoned her and couldn't understand why.

'There were times when I needed a father figure - for reassurance and advice. There just wasn't one there.'

There are many gaps in their shared pasts, but one memory they both recall vividly is how, on the day Lisa returned home to her father she walked into her bedroom and threw out all the toys and mementoes Mark had clung on to from her childhood, laughing nervously as she did so.

'It struck me just how much time had passed and how far she had moved on,' said Mark. 'We might be father and daughter, but we were starting again from scratch.'

And despite her bravado as she threw away the dolls and teddies, Lisa admits that, in fact, her heart was breaking.


Mark, right, and fellow protester Jolly
When I walked into my old bedroom and saw it was exactly as I had left it all those years ago, I wanted to sob,' she says. 'If I had ever doubted dad's love for me, here was the proof of just how unfailing it was. I didn't dare cry, because if I did I thought I might never stop.'

With their comic book character outfits and off-the-wall publicity stunt protests, it would be all too easy to dismiss the Fathers 4 Justice phenomenon out of hand. The group formed in 2002 and champions the reform of Britain's family law system and equal parenting rights for separated couples. It doesn't help, of course, that many of the group are legally prevented from speaking out and defending themselves.

And yet the personal story behind the group's latest desperate attempt to be heard is a salutary reminder that when family decision-making is handed over to the State, families can be ripped apart.

As Mark pointed out, he didn't walk out of his children's lives. He was ordered out by the secretive family courts. And when he objected, insisting upon his right to see them, he found himself on the wrong side of the law.

He married a former driving school pupil in 1986 after a whirlwind romance and Lisa was born the following year, her younger sisters arriving in 1989 and 1991. Back then in those heady days of early fatherhood, he could never have imagined that he would one day end up on national television protesting on top of a minister's home.

'When Lisa was born, I was overwhelmed with love,' he recalled. 'I felt the luckiest man alive. Being a father quickly became what defined me.'

He was, he said, a 'hands-on' father and aside from regular rows about his 'overbearing' mother-in-law, he thought his marriage was happy too.

His wife, however, clearly didn't agree. One day in November 1993, he returned home to find the four-bedroom family home in Plymouth ransacked. Most of the furniture and ornaments, as well as his wife and children, had gone.

'Later, she calmly explained that she no longer loved me, but that I could see the children whenever I wanted,' he said. 'She seemed so cold and uncaring - I didn't recognise her.

'I took the children home with me for a few hours and they spent the time crying, wanting to know when they could have their lives back. I didn't know what to say to them, because I was as bewildered as they were.'

Over the next two months, Mark saw the girls nearly every day. Then, one day, two months after she had left, his wife asked if she could speak to him.

'She told me that she deeply regretted what she had done and asked if I would take her back,' said Mark. 'I refused. I was too hurt and angry. The following day, she changed her telephone number and from then on she refused even to answer the door to me, let alone let the children see me.'

Life soon became a round of court appearances. At first, Mark was granted unrestricted access. But at the same time his wife applied to have his visits reduced, saying it was ' confusing' for the girls to see him.

The Family Court agreed and cut his access from three times a week to once a week and finally to once a fortnight.

A year after they separated, the couple divorced. And that year, 1996, Mark returned to court in a bid to see more of his daughters. This time, he asked if they could come and live with him. His wife retaliated by saying that seeing him was unsettling the girls. The judge's response was astonishing by any standards: he severed all Mark's rights of access.

'I was devastated,' he said. 'But I couldn't let that stop me being a father to them.' To show he cared, he stood on the street and waved to them when their mother drove them to school each morning. His ex-wife took out an injunction to stop him.

Still he carried on waving at his children. 'I thought the whole ridiculous business would be cleared up at the next court hearing,' he said.

Instead, in November 1997, when he turned up at court, he was led away in handcuffs and jailed for four months. 'They said my waving was tantamount to stalking my wife.'


Mark and Jolly were dressed as 'Captain Conception' and 'Cash Gordon'
On his first night in jail, he shared a cell with a murderer. 'I pined for my girls,' he said. 'When I got out, it took me another year to convince the courts that I should be allowed to see the girls at all.' Finally, five years after being separated from Lisa and her younger sisters, Mark was granted permission to see them under the supervision of social workers. At first, Lisa refused to come, convinced that he hadn't seen her for so long because he didn't love her.

'It hurt to think she didn't want to see me. But it I hoped she would eventually come round.'

Then, in January 2001, at a court hearing he hoped would increase his children's visits, he was sentenced to ten months in Pentonville Prison for contempt of court. His crime?

Driving past his wife's house, trying to catch a glimpse of the girls between the six unsupervised visits he was allowed each year. He went on hunger strike for two weeks.

'I stopped only when I realised that if I died, I would never see my girls again.'

In the end, it was Lisa, not the courts, who resolved the situation-Over the years, she admits, she had given up on her father.

'We thought he didn't love us any more,' she says.

When her father was jailed, it served only to reinforce what she says were her mother's words: 'I told you he was a bad man.'

Mum’s hate for dad seemed to run so deep, to keep her happy and get the social workers off my back, I told them all I never wanted to see him again. Turning love to hate seemed easier.'

Over the years, she occasionally saw her father on TV. 'One day, I caught him being interviewed along with some other dads who were also banned from seeing their children,' she says.

'As I listened to them all talk about how all they wanted was to be allowed to be fathers to their own kids, I felt a pang for my own dad and what we'd lost.'

On March 21, 2001, she telephoned her father out of the blue, saying that she and her youngest sister were at a bus stop with their bags packed and wanted to come and live with him.

'Seeing Lisa again for the first time in six years was incredible,' recalled Mark, who has written a book, Family Court Hell, about his experiences.

'The last time we were together, she was a little girl - right then I didn't know how to speak to, or even how look at, the young woman before me, in make-up and high heels with her 6ft boyfriend in tow. In the end, we just fell into one another's arms and sobbed.'

Back home, he called a High Court emergency hotline. 'I managed to speak to a decent, and very humane, judge. I told him everything, he spoke to the girls, and ten minutes later faxed through a temporary residency order. In court, the following week, he cleared every previous court order and injunction that had been passed in the past ten years relating to our case.'

For Lisa, the reunion was hard at first. 'The last time I'd seen my dad I was ten and carried a skipping rope. Now I was 16, a young woman with a boyfriend in tow. Dad looked older and worn down by it all. It was a shock to see how he had aged.'

Today, she and her father are closer than ever, while her relationship with her mother is strained. 'As soon as the police release him, he's coming straight home,' she says. 'I can't wait to see him.'

Yet there is lingering regret too, for herself and for others who have to experience a similar ordeal. 'I wish to God that my parents had avoided the courts from day one and simply shared us, the children they created together,' she says.

'Instead, complete strangers were allowed to get involved in our lives to such an extent that everyone lost sight of the needs of us, the three people they were fighting over. All I ever wanted was to be allowed to love them both,' she says.

Harriet Harman may have been justified in refusing to meet this weekend's uninvited house guests and listen to their complaints, but, in the end, Lisa's words say it all.

Monday, 9 June 2008

'I will not be moved', vows Fathers 4 Justice campaigner who is STILL on minister's roof

A Fathers 4 Justice protester today vowed to remain on top of Harriet Harman's roof until his fellow protester had been released by police.

He also accused officers of using 'heavy-handed' tactics in trying to wrestle him down.



Jolly Stanesby and fellow demonstrator Mark Harris scaled the deputy leader of the Labour Party's house yesterday morning dressed as 'Captain Conception' and 'Cash Gordon'.

Mr Harris climbed down and was arrested last night but his fellow protester spent the night sleeping under a tarpaulin and insisted today he was staying put.

In for the long haul: Protester Jolly Stanesby was still on Harriet Harman's roof this morning and insists he is staying put

This morning Mr Stanesby said: 'I'm not coming down until they free my mate Mark. He is still being held.'

The pair were taking part in their latest protest over the treatment of fathers in child custody battles in court and had unfurled a banner reading 'A father is for life, not just conception'.

The Minister for Women refused to meet the pair and decided to temporarily move out of her South London address six hours after they arrived

The activists demanded the MP for Camberwell and Peckham read Mr Harris's book, Family Court Hell, an account of his court battle for custody of his two daughters.

Originally boasting they had enough food and water to stay aloft for a week, Mr Harris soon had to be brought down suffering from heatstroke.

He was arrested and faces charges of criminal damage and causing a public nuisance.

Determined: Mr Stanesby says fathers are treated like 'walking wallets'

But Mr Stanesby, 37, said: 'This protest is extremely important. In the courts dads are treated like a walking wallet and with total disregard. I will take each hour as it comes.'

Miss Harman, minister for Women and Equality, and her husband, Labour Party treasurer Jack Dromey, left the home and said: 'We are going to stay somewhere else. I don't think it's fair for police resources to be tied up by this demonstration.'

Fathers 4 Justice dismissed her claims that she had no record of a previous request for a meeting.

Miss Harman, 58, said it was not fair to waste police time or disturb her neighbours so she was going to stay elsewhere.

Three police cars were parked outside the house this morning and officers have already started a security review to work out how the Fathers 4 Justice campaigners were able to scale the walls of Miss Harman's home so easily.


The men claimed they had simply entered through an unlocked gate and propped a ladder up against the wall of the three-storey house.

Miss Harman was targeted because, in her previous Whitehall job as Solicitor General, campaigners say she did not do enough to open up access to the family courts.

It was also claimed that she had hinted at support for the aims of Fathers 4 Justice, but had done nothing.

On the move: Ms Harman outside her besieged home yesterday. She stayed inside for six hours but eventually decided to leave and wait for the protest to end

The drama started at about 8.15am. Once the two Fathers 4 Justice protesters were on the roof they unfurled a banner reading 'A Father is for life, not just conception'.

Mr Harris, speaking to the Daily Mail by mobile phone from the roof, insisted the stunt was a peaceful protest, but said it raised questions about Miss Harman's security arrangements.

'All we did was push open the gate, which wasn't even locked, put a ladder up and climbed up,' he said.

'In this time of heightened terror alerts I can't believe Harriet Harman has such lax security.'

A spokesman for the militant group - whose previous stunts including throwing flour at Tony Blair in the House of Commons and scaling Buckingham Palace - said the demonstration was intended as an 'early Father's Day strike' against the Government over fathers' access to their children.

Ms Harman, the Minister for Women and Equality, stayed inside the house for more than six hours.

But with no end to the stand-off in sight, she eventually emerged from the home she shares with Jack Dromey, treasurer of the Labour Party, to condemn the protest.

She said: 'We are going to move out and stay somewhere else. I don't think it's fair for police resources to be tied up outside my house by this demonstration.'

The demonstrators demanded a meeting with the Cabinet Minister during their sit-in, claiming she had refused to see them.

But Ms Harman denied this and said they could have attended her regular Friday constituency surgery at Southwark Town Hall two days earlier.

She said: 'They have said this is because they want a meeting but I checked with my constituency office and they haven't requested a meeting.'

Fathers 4 Justice spokesman Darryl Westell challenged Miss Harman's claims.

'It's rubbish,' he said. 'She has been approached through Matt O'Connor, the founder, and Mark Oaten, the MP for Winchester. She refused.'

Last night security expert Dai Davies, a former head of the Met's Royalty Protection Squad, said: 'It is ironic that at a time when the Government is trying to extend the detention period for terrorist suspects - supposedly because 2,000 individuals are plotting against us - that security should be so lax at the home of the deputy leader of the Labour Party.'


Fathers 4 Justice was shut down in January 2006 after extremist sympathisers were accused of plotting to kidnap Mr Blair's son Leo but was relaunched four months later when campaigners invaded the live broadcast of the National Lottery draw.

Mr Stanesby and another activist were fined after climbing Stonehenge dressed as cartoon caveman Fred Flintstone in February last year in protest about comments made by Tory leader David Cameron on absent fathers.

Fathers 4 Justice said it had been left with no choice but to resume its campaign of direct action and civil disruption because of the Government's "point-blank refusal" to meet its representatives.

Fathers 4 Justice campaigner continues overnight vigil on Harriet Harman's roof in Herne Hill


A Fathers 4 Justice campaigner who climbed on to the roof of deputy Labour leader Harriet Harman's home has been arrested, police said today.


Another man, Jolly Stanesby, remains on the roof of the Cabinet Minister's house in Herne Hill, south London after an all-night vigil, Scotland Yard said.

"A 49-year-old man who came down from the roof is in custody. A second man remains on the roof," a police spokeswoman said.

The pair, wearing superhero costumes, yesterday unfurled a banner reading "A father is for life, not just conception".

The group said they wanted to highlight the fact that fathers were being made redundant, emotionally in the courts and now biologically in the new Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill.

Ms Harman, the Minister for Women and Equality, remained inside yesterday for over seven hours but eventually emerged to announce she was leaving until the protest was over.

She said: "We are going to move out and stay somewhere else. I don't think it's fair for police resources to be tied up outside my house by this demonstration."

During their protest Mr Harris and Mr Stanesby demanded a meeting with the Cabinet Minister, claiming she had refused to see them.

But Ms Harman denied this and said they could have attended her regular Friday constituency surgery at Southwark Town Hall two days earlier.

She said: "They have said this is because they want a meeting but I checked with my constituency office and they haven't requested a meeting.

"I checked with my ministerial office and they haven't requested a meeting there."

Fathers 4 Justice founder Matt O'Connor responded by saying he had asked Ms Harman for "urgent talks" over a year ago through his local MP in Winchester, Lib-Dem Mark Oaten.

He said: "She wrote back and refused, as did other Ministers, such as Peter Hain.

"We have a duty of care to our kids to address the elephant in the room that is mass fatherlessness and the catastrophic consequences it has on our children."

The two protesters said they intended to remain on the roof until Ms Harman read Mr Harris's book about his child custody battle, Family Court Hell.


Police established a cordon around the house and tried to persuade the men to come down, although Fathers 4 Justice said the pair had enough supplies for a week.

Speaking by mobile phone from the roof, Mr Harris insisted it was a peaceful protest but raised questions about Ms Harman's security arrangements.

He said: "All we did was push open the gate, which wasn't even locked, put a ladder up and climbed up.

"In this time of heightened terror alerts I can't believe Harriet Harman has such lax security. My house is more secure than this."

The protest was the latest in a long line of high-profile Fathers 4 Justice stunts.

The most notorious incident involved activist Guy Harrison throwing a flour bomb at former prime minister Tony Blair in the House of Commons in May 2004.

Mr Blair was unhurt, but speaker Michael Martin immediately suspended the sitting halfway through Prime Minister's Questions.

Fathers 4 Justice was shut down in January 2006 after extremist sympathisers were accused of plotting to kidnap Mr Blair's son Leo.

But it was relaunched four months later when campaigners invaded the live broadcast of the National Lottery draw.

Members dressed as superheroes have previously raised awareness of their cause by scaling high-profile buildings, including Buckingham Palace.

Mr Stanesby and another activist were fined after climbing Stonehenge dressed as cartoon caveman Fred Flintstone in February last year in protest about comments made by Tory leader David Cameron on absent fathers.

Fathers 4 Justice said it had been left with no choice but to resume its campaign of direct action and civil disruption because of the Government's "point-blank refusal" to meet its representatives.

Mr O'Connor will lead a "Fatherless Day" demonstration at the Trooping the Colour ceremony in London on Saturday, the group said.

Sunday, 8 June 2008

Harriet Harman's home targeted by Fathers 4 Justice campaigners

Campaigners dressed as superheroes have scaled the roof of deputy Labour leader Harriet Harman's home while she and her husband were inside.



The Fathers 4 Justice activists, named as Mark Harris, 46 and Jolly Stanesby, 41, from Plymouth, climbed onto the house in south London dressed as Captain Conception and Cash Gordon.

The group, which campaigns for fathers' rights, said two more unnamed members were inside the building and had unfurled a banner from a bedroom window which read "A father is for life, not just conception".

Miss Harman and her husband, Labour party treasurer Jack Dromey, were said to be inside the house at the time.

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Mr Harris said: "All we did was push open the gate which wasn't even locked, put a ladder up and climbed up.

"In this time of heightened terror alerts, I can't believe Harriet Harman has such lax security. My house is more secure than this."

The founder of the direct action group, Mark O'Connor, said: "This is the beginning of a series of protests leading up to Fathers' Day.

"We've got absolutely nowhere in terms of dialogue with the Government and if anything the situation for fathers is infinitely worse.

"Politicians don't want to tackle the elephant in the room, fatherhood, for fear of upsetting single mothers.

"They say you can abandon your children tomorrow if you pay."

The campaigners have said they will remain at the property until Miss Harman has read Mr Harris's book, Family Court Hell.

Mr O'Connor said: "They've got enough food to last them for a week."

Fathers 4 Justice have become well-known for their publicity stunts.

In 2004, two members of the group threw condoms filled with purple flour at Tony Blair, who was then Prime Minister, as he was addressing the House of Commons.

Later that year, another member of the group breached Buckingham Palace security and climbed onto a ledge wearing a Batman costume.

Fathers 4 Justice was shut down in January 2006 after hardline sympathisers were accused of plotting to kidnap Mr Blair's son Leo.

But the group was reborn four months later when campaigners invaded the set of the National Lottery draw during a live broadcast.

This latest stunt is the beginning of a series of new protests by the group, according to Mr O'Connor.

He said: "There will be an official protest in Bristol, when we'll be targeting the Child Support Agency (CSA) in a way which hasn't been seen before."

"We'll also be revisiting many of our older protests."

Last month, Miss Harman said that marriage was irrelevant to government policy.

Her comments led to accusations that Labour was trying to destroy traditional family life in Britain, and in the process condemning children to lives of poverty in single-­parent households.

A Scotland Yard spokeswoman said: "Officers are currently in attendance at the location and are speaking to the men."

Saturday, 12 April 2008

Fathers 4 Justice take complaints to judge's home

Angry dads have paid a visit to the Barnes home of a high court judge and claim they will continue until "fathers have justice".

A protest was held by 35 members of Fathers 4 Justice (F4J) outside the home of Judge Paul Coleridge, in Melville Road, on Saturday, April 12, over his condemnation of the Government for failing to act over family breakdown and teenage deaths.

Former Richmond resident and F4J member Mark Harris said: "It sticks in my throat to see this man passing the buck in this way because his family courts fail.
"My case took 10 years of litigation, 133 court cases and £1million of taxpayers money wasted. If Coleridge and the previous 32 judges had done their job in the first place, none of this farce would have taken place."

Leader of F4J Matt O'Connor spoke to Judge Coleridge over the phone. He allegedly refused to leave his house to meet protesters and complained that the demonstration was an inconvenience to his neighbours.

However, he did agree to meet Mr O'Connor and a few other members in his court chambers to discuss the contact rights of fathers after divorce and separation.

One F4J member, currently involved in a legal battle over his children, said: "We'll be back in far larger numbers next time if he doesn't listen, and he won't be given notice that we are coming."

The Richmond and Twickenham Times attempted to contact Judge Coleridge but he was unavailable for comment

Tuesday, 27 November 2007

Friday, 2 November 2007

Best Magazine

Thursday, 1 November 2007

Judge Thorpe Demo





27 October 2007
By Lewis Cowen

There was lots of monkey business in Seend, near Devizes, on Saturday afternoon as members of the campaign group Fathers4Justice lobbied the home of High Court Judge, Sir Mathew Thorpe.

Ten uniformed police officers, including a dog team, protected Sir Mathew’s home, Beech House, from 15 protesters, many of them dressed in monkey suits, carrying placards saying “Hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil”.

At the front of procession, which left the Bell Inn on the way along the village High Street, was Mark Harris, who waged a ten-year legal battle to gain access to his three daughters, chronicled in his book, Family Court Hell.

He wheeled a wheelbarrow full of legal papers which he wanted to present to Sir Mathew to highlight the complexity imposed on his simple desire to see his children.

He told the Gazette: “All we want is the same rights as mum’s new boyfriend, who can see the children any time he wants. The dad has to go to court to fight for that right and if the mother doesn’t comply, the courts do nothing.

“The law is in place. It is the Children’s Act 1989. All we are asking is that it is enforced and fathers are allowed to be fathers.”

Mr Harris had come from Plymouth to register his protest, but others had come much further.

Oliver Stones and his partner Marta Kolonko, had made the five-hour drive from East Yorkshire to take part in the protest.

Ms Kolonko is in the second year of a three-year legal course at Hull University because she wants to work to change family law in England.

She said: “The law in this country is ridiculous. It reminds me of North Korea. Oliver has a little boy four years old. We love him. But we managed to see him in August only because of a court order. The law must be changed.”

At the entrance to Beech House, Mr Harris thanked all those who supported him. He said: “Sir Mathew is not in today, but I hope we’ll catch him another time.

“For the moment, I would like to ask him, what have you got to hide?”

MAKING A MONKEY OF POLICE EFFORTS TO BLOCK PROTEST


08:00 - 29 October 2007

Fathers' rights campaigners brought a bizarre air to a village on Saturday as dads dressed as monkeys marched on the house of a prominent family court judge.The Fathers4Justice campaign, with the theme of the three monkeys, lobbied the home of High Court judge Sir Matthew Thorpe in Seend, near Devizes, Wiltshire.

A strong police presence ensured the demo was stopped at the gates of the judge's country pad, but demonstrators claimed after the police left, they got back in to post bananas through his letterbox and fix placards to his garden.

Leading the protests was Richard Adams and Mark Harris, whose book describing his experiences in the Family Court system under Judge Thorpe has become what campaigners say is a damning indictment of the bias against fathers.

Mr Adams said campaigners wanted to highlight the plight of fathers caught up in the family court system, but also wanted to call on the perpetrators of high-profile graffiti-ing of historic sites in the West to stop.

Judge Thorpe was not at home on Saturday during the demonstration.

Within hours footage of the demonstration was posted on the internet, and Mr Adams said: "It was a shame the police left so quickly afterwards, they missed us going back to Thorpe's house to post bananas through the letterbox and put placards in his front garden, which looked like a golf course afterwards."

Saturday, 29 September 2007

DAD’S BOOK ON BATTLE TO SEE HIS DAUGHTERS



Campaign A founding member of Fathers 4 Justice has written a book about his ‘battle’ to see his children following the break-up of his marriage.Father-of-three Mark Harris, who lives in Plympton, clocked up a massive 133 court appearances and went before 33 different judges as he tried to gain access to his daughters over a 10 year period.

At the time he was accused by a High Court judge of being an “unprincipled charlatan” who had brought about the estrangement of his daughters through his own “obstinacy” and “blindness”.But Mark, who is 48, refused to give up hope, and was even jailed twice for contempt of court, serving 129 days in total.
After he met other dads in similar situations, the campaign group Fathers 4 Justice was formed. In 2003 they staged a protest on the roof of Plymouth Crown Court to raise attention to Mark’s case

Mark was reunited with his daughters in 2003 after his eldest and youngest arrived at his home with bags packed following an argument with their mother.
He called the High Court hotline where a judge spoke with both girls “for a matter of minutes” before faxing over a temporary residency order.

In court the following week, every previous court order was set aside.
“It took ten minutes to put right and end ten years of injustice,” says Mark, who still lives with his two daughters and sees the third regularly.
Mark and his eldest daughter Lisa, aged 16, have now written a book about their experiences, called Family Court Hell.

Recently published, the book aims to highlight what Mark sees as institutionalised discrimination against divorced fathers.

He said: “I wrote the book because situations like this are still going on now. I missed out on my children’s childhoods and I regret that every single day. I would not wish anybody to have to go through the same thing.”
Family Court Hell is available online through Amazon.

Saturday, 11 August 2007

Family Court Hell

This is one man's harrowing story of frustration and determination as he battled for access rights to his young daughters following the bitter break-up of his marriage.

Incredibly, his was a journey that spanned almost ten years, with 133 hearings by 33 judges, and which reportedly cost the taxpayer over GBP1 million. What should have been a "simple contact dispute" somehow resulted in this innocent family man effectively being criminalized by the family courts, resulting in a stretch on the A Wing of the infamous Pentonville prison, which housed convicted murderers, terrorists, gun runners and drug dealers.

Mark Harris eventually took his case public and the campaign for fathers' rights took off - with the formation of Fathers 4 Justice. This is a shocking story that deserves to be heard.

Family Court Hell
Mark Harris
ISBN 1-906206-12-0 U.K.
£8.99Order from Amazon or call penpress on 0845 108 0530

Jailed for waving at my daughter

By JENNY JOHNSTON and RACHEL HALLIWELL
25th June 2007

Denied access to his three children after his divorce, Mark was jailed for standing outside his house to wave to them. It took ten years and 133 hearings before they were reunited. How CAN the Government insist cases like his are kept secret?

Saturday, 21 July 2007

Jailed for waving at my daughter

Denied access to his three children after his divorce, Mark was jailed for standing outside his house to wave to them. It took ten years and 133 hearings before they were reunited. How CAN the Government insist cases like his are kept secret?

Every day there is some reminder of what Mark Harris calls 'the lost years'.
It could be his daughter's reference to a particular birthday party or a family holiday. It could be talk of exams sat, dentists visited or pop stars worshipped.

Each time it happens, he feels a stab of regret. 'I missed so much,' he reveals, with understandable bitterness. 'They took my daughter's childhood, her formative years, from me. Lisa is 20 now. I didn't see her between the ages of ten and 16. An awful lot happens in a child's life in that time, and I missed it all.'
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Reunited: Lisa, 20, with her father, Mark Harris

Lisa missed a lot, too. She sits by Mark's side as he talks, a beautiful and assured young woman, but one still coming to terms with the fact that her father simply wasn't there when she needed him - and for an entire decade she did not know why.

'There were times when I needed a father figure - for reassurance and advice,' she says, with quiet restraint. 'There just wasn't one there.'

But the story of what happened to the Harris family isn't just another tragic case of broken homes and estrangement. Mark, Lisa and her two younger sisters were wrenched apart by the state.

Mark was not a feckless, irresponsible father. He did not walk out of his children's lives. Rather, he was ordered out by the family courts, and when he objected - insisting it was his right to see them - he was dealt with in a scandalous way.

Mark Harris went to prison for his girls. He was jailed for waving to them after a court order demanded he sever all contact. It was the most shameful chapter in an extraordinary ten-year custody battle.

He has now 'won' - today, two of his daughters live with him - only because they shared their father's determination to re-establish their relationship.

He has lived every father's worst nightmare, and every miserable step is etched on his face. 'It took ten years, 133 court appearances before 33 different judges, two prison sentences and a hunger strike before I was given permission to be with my daughters again,' he says quietly.
'What happened to my family is unforgivable. And that it was all sanctioned - ordered - by a system that is supposed to help families is outrageous.'

The controversial family court system has much to answer for in this case. Mark Harris isn't the first father who has questioned how it operates. Family court proceedings are notoriously secretive, and campaigners have long appealed for the proceedings to be more open and judges more accountable.

That is not to be, however. Last week the Lord Chancellor ruled that proceedings must remain secret - something that horrifies Mark and his girls.

So angry is he about his experiences that he has written a book, Family Court Hell. 'Surely my story is evidence enough that the system needs to change.
'If it doesn't, the family courts are open to abuse by unaccountable judges and social workers with their own agendas, whose word is taken as law and who almost invariably favour the mother.

'It's a scandal which has left hundreds of fathers like me in desperation. The only solution is to have a court system that's transparent. Otherwise it is simply not fair to fathers or, more importantly, to the children it is supposed to protect.'

When Lisa was born in 1988, Mark felt 'like the happiest man alive'. He had been married to his wife - whom we cannot name even now for legal reasons - for three-and-a-half years, and he had longed for fatherhood. Over the next four years, two more daughters followed.

MARK says: 'I remember thinking how lucky I was because I had a job that I could organise around the children. I'm a driving instructor, so my work was flexible. I loved the time I spent with Lisa. Not every father could read their children stories, bath them or take them out for walks in their pram.'

Mark thought he had a happy marriage, too. The only difficulty was his strained relationship with his mother-inlaw. Yet it didn't concern him much.

'Looking back, we rowed constantly about my mother-in-law, but I never thought it would lead to drastic action,' he says. Perhaps he will never know exactly what was wrong in his marriage, but his wife was clearly unhappy.

One day in 1993, Mark returned from a football match to find the house 'looking as though it had been ransacked'. Almost all the furniture had disappeared. So, too, had his wife and children, and he had no clue where they had gone.

'I went to the police,' he says. 'I was beside myself, distraught. They said my
wife was in a rented house nearby, but that I shouldn't go round until the next day. When I did, she told me she no longer loved me, but said I could see the children whenever I wanted. I was bereft.

'I took the children home for a few hours and they spent the time crying - they were only six, four and two, and it must have been horrific for them to see their parents like that. They wanted to know when we'd all be at home together again, and I didn't know what to say. I was as shocked and bewildered as them.'

Over the next few weeks, Mark stumbled through life in a daze. He saw his girls every day he wasn't working, but his anger towards his wife was building up.

Two months after she left, she asked if he would take her back. Mark was too hurt to contemplate that. Instead, he launched divorce proceedings.

'At that point, it didn't even occur to me that access to the children would be an issue. I was granted unrestricted access - but later I discovered that even then my wife was seeing a solicitor, with a view to having my time with them reduced. She said it was confusing for them to see me.'

THE FAMILY court agreed, and his access was reduced to three times a week, then to once a week and finally to once a fortnight. Mark was stunned to discover he was powerless to resist. 'I petitioned the judge every time, but there was nothing I could do,' he says.

A year after they had separated, the couple divorced. Again, Mark made a bid to see more of his girls, and asked the court if they could live with him. His wife retaliated, claiming that seeing him at all was unsettling them. The court's reaction? It banned him from any contact at all with his daughters.

'I was just floored, disgusted. On my wife's word, the judge simply severed all my rights of access. When I protested, no one listened. I was devastated, but there was no way I was going to turn my back on my children. How could a court order stop me from being a father?'

Every morning, while he waited for a court date to argue against this judgment, Mark saw his children being driven past his house to school by their mother. He'd wave - angry that he couldn't say hello, but grateful for their smiles.

Then his former wife was granted an injunction stopping him even gesturing to his children as they passed. 'It was incredible. She said it was harassment, and the court believed her. But I carried on waving. I was looking for a job and I'd walk to the Jobcentre every morning - knowing how to time it so they would come past.

'I was damned if I was going to be prevented from waving at my own children. Naively, maybe, I assumed the whole business would be cleared up at the next court hearing.'

It wasn't. Instead, Mark left that courtroom in handcuffs, sentenced to four months, having been told that waving was tantamount to stalking his ex. He couldn't believe what was happening.

'On my first night in jail I shared a cell with a murderer,' he says. 'It was so intimidating. The next few weeks just blurred into one long nightmare. Every waking hour I pined for my girls, wondering if I would ever see them again.

'When I got out, the nightmare continued. It took another year for me to convince the courts I should be allowed to see them at all. Life was an endless round of court hearings. It was a wretched existence. Time and again I'd be facing a new judge and having to re-tell the story. To me, it was a matter of life and death, but to them, it seemed I was just another pushy, undeserving father who was trying to interfere in his former wife's life.

'I was so messed up by it all that I had a vasectomy to ensure I couldn't find myself in that position again.'

Finally, five years after the separation, Mark was granted permission to see his daughters. He was excited about the planned date - but devastated-when Lisa didn't turn up. 'By then I was livid at the system. It was destroying my life. I know it was a foolish thing to do, but I started picketing the homes of the judges who had denied me contact, hoping they would take pity on me.'

His protests were to no avail. Instead, in 2001, he was sentenced to ten months in prison for contempt of court for driving past his girls' house to catch a glimpse of them. By then spiralling into depression, he went on hunger strike. For two weeks he refused food and water. 'I stopped only when I realised that if I died I would never see my precious daughters again,' Mark says.
Who knows how this desperate fight to be a father would have ended had Lisa, then 16, not intervened. 'After a row with her mother, she called Mark and told him she and one of her sisters wanted to live with him.

'I got this call saying they had packed their bags and were at a bus stop. Would I pick them up? In breach of all court orders, I got in the car and brought them home. Seeing Lisa again, for the first time in six years, was incredible. I didn't know how to speak to, or look at, this young woman before me. She was wearing make-up. She had her 6ft boyfriend in tow. It was surreal, but in the end we fell into each other's arms and sobbed.'

It was only then that the family court system seemed to consider Mark's rights. He called the High Court emergency hotline and eventually spoke to a 'decent, humane judge'.

Ten minutes after their conversation-he was faxed a temporary residency order. In court the following week, every previous court order was set aside. 'It took ten minutes to put right and ten years of injustice, which made me realise just what power those judges have,' says Mark.
The ruling meant that Lisa and her sisters could choose which parent they lived with. Lisa and her youngest sister - who, again, we can't name for legal reasons - now live with him.
Lisa is studying to be a legal secretary. Her story is even more poignant. She tells of the confusion that has blighted most of her life, and you cannot help but wonder what long-term damage has been inflicted on her and her sisters.

'One minute we were normal children. The next we were in a rented house with Dad hammering on the door demanding to be allowed to see us,' she says. 'We were scared. None of it made sense. Sometimes we'd be allowed to see Dad regularly, then there were times with no contact at all.

'When Dad disappeared out of our lives, we just thought he had stopped loving us. I was certain I'd done something wrong. 'The first time we saw him waving to us as we went to school, I was thrilled. I remember thinking: "He still cares."

'Every morning, Mum would tell us we shouldn't look at him - that he was a bad man - yet we couldn't help but grin when we saw him. It made our day.' It was impossible for Lisa's mother to go a different route.

WHEN her father went to prison, no one explained to Lisa why. 'Mum said: "You see - I told you he was bad." I was ten years old. As far as I knew, you had to do something pretty awful to go to prison.'

She turned against her father, telling social workers she didn't want to see him. Yet with hindsight she explains she was simply trying to gain control over the horrific situation.

'There was this endless pantomime with social workers wanting to know what I thought. All I wanted was to be allowed to love both my parents, but I knew that was never going to happen.
'Mum's hatred for Dad was so deep that to keep her happy, and to get them off my back, I said I wouldn't see him. Turning love to hate made that easier. I told myself that my dad had been wicked, so he deserved it.'

When the courts finally granted access, Lisa was so tortured that she often didn't turn up to see her father. She thought she was protecting her mother by siding with her.

However, when she fell out with her mother during a phase of teenage rebellion, it was to her father that she fled - and when she discovered he had never stopped loving her, she was left reeling.

'I'd never forgotten Dad's number. I know I was only ringing him then to get back at Mum, but when I heard his voice, I wanted to cry. I told him I loved him and that I wanted to see him. Everything just flooded out.'

The first meeting was as hard for her as it was for him. 'The last time I'd seen him I'd been ten and carrying a skipping rope. When I walked into my old bedroom - and saw it was as I had left it - I wanted to sob. I didn't dare do so, though, because I knew if I did I'd never stop.'
Four years on, Lisa and Mark are only just beginning to rebuild their relationship. Every day, more gaps are filled, and more trust regained.

Meanwhile, Lisa rarely sees her mother, and she is angry at her mother's behaviour. It is a desperately sorry story, with no real winners. But then, as Lisa points out, it was never supposed to be a contest.

'I wish to God that my parents had avoided the courts from day one, and simply shared us, the children they created together,' she says.

'Instead, complete strangers were allowed to get involved in our lives to such an extent that everyone lost sight of the needs of us children.

'I love both my parents; I always will. But I will never get my childhood back. It is gone for ever.'
• FAMILY Court Hell by Mark Harris, costs £8.99. Call 0845 1080530, or visit www.amazon.co.uk or www.penpress.co.uk.

Sunday Independent


Sunday, 26 November 2006

The People - MY PARENTS' BITTER DIVORCE TORE ME APART FOR 10 YEARS.. TILL I RAN AWAY FROM MUM TO BE WITH DAD I HARDLY KNEW


TEENAGER'S HEARTFELT PLEA TO WARRING COUPLES EVERYWHERE

HIGHLIGHT: TRAUMA: Lisa felt robbed of a normal childhood



PRETTY Lisa Harris has been enjoying a special Christmas with her dad - after a bitter parental feud meant they were banned from seeing each other for TEN years.

Her childhood was ripped apart by an endless round of custody battles until she finally ran away from her mum to live with the Fathers 4 Justice campaigner she hardly knew.

Now 18, Lisa has spoken for the first time about her traumatic upbringing, revealing: "It was a nightmare being pulled in both directions by my parents.

"I want to tell my story on behalf of all the voiceless children whose lives are being torn apart in the same way."



Determined Lisa told how she was:

- DEVASTATED at six when her mum moved her and her two sisters out of the family home and then divorced.

- HEARTBROKEN at eight when the courts banned her dad Mark from seeing them.

- STUNNED at 10 when he was sent to prison for waving to her on the way to school.

- HORRIFIED when she saw him on TV picketing as a Fathers 4 Justice campaigner outside a judge's home.

Lisa vividly recalls the Saturday in November 1993 when her nightmare began.

She said: "Dad had gone to the football. As soon as he left, relatives turned up and my sisters and I were taken off to the house of an auntie we hardly knew.

"One minute we were normal kids living a normal family life. The next we were in a rented house with dad hammering at the door demanding to be allowed to see us."

At first Lisa and her sisters, aged four and two, had regular contact with their dad - but it was not to last.

Lisa recalled: "When he came to collect us I'd see him and mum talking and pray that they were sorting things out.

"I was desperate for them to get back together. I wanted him back putting me in the bath, reading me bedtime stories and helping me with my homework. Instead we had to cram our relationship into the few short hours we spent together.

"Then a few months later we suddenly lost even that. Dad stopped seeing us and being a child I thought it was because of something I had done wrong."

In fact, Mark Harris had been banned from seeing his kids by law because their mum believed his visits were upsetting them.

"I didn't know that dad wasn't allowed to see us," said Lisa. "I started to feel angry with him for abandoning us."

Lisa started to recognise a pattern in her mum's behaviour. "Every time she came downstairs in her suit it meant she was going to court to argue about us with dad.

"She always came back with a headache and didn't want to play with us or talk. I felt guilty, wondering if it was all because of me." Over the following years, Lisa's parents went to court more than ONE HUNDRED times in custody battles.

To show the kids he loved them, he started slowly driving past the house. And he'd stand on a street corner and wave to them as they went to school.

But his actions breached an order forcing him to stay away - and he spent 45 days in jail.

"I was 10 and it was too distressing for me to think of my dad behind bars," said Lisa. "So in my head I turned him into the bad man I thought he must be to have gone to prison. It was easier that way."

Lisa had to endure a parade of social workers quizzing her about how she felt about her dad. She said: "They'd ask if I wanted to see him. They said I didn't have to if I didn't want to.

"I started wondering if things might get better if I went along with that. Maybe then the social workers might leave us alone to get on with our lives.

"Most of all I thought it might make mum happy again. So I forced myself to hate him - it was so much easier than loving him."

Mark came out of jail, only to be sent back inside for a further 84 days for a new breach. This time he went on hunger strike - and joined Fathers 4 Justice. Lisa recalled: "One night I was watching the news and there was my dad on TV. He was protesting outside the home of a judge who'd banned another father from seeing his kids.

"I felt ashamed and embarrassed and just wished my dad would let it go." More recently another Fathers 4 Justice member protested as Batman at Buckingham Palace.

But at 16 Lisa had a change of heart towards her dad. She said: "I had a row with mum - I'd started rebelling and staying out late. I marched out and rang dad from a phone box.

"I was only going to do it to hit out at mum. I was sick of her running my life.

"But as soon as I heard my dad's voice I wanted to cry. I blurted out I wanted to see him and I loved him."

This time a sympathetic judge ruled that Lisa was free to live with her dad, a driving instructor in Plymouth, if that was her choice. Lisa said: "Finally, after all those years, it was over.

"It was hard at first. The last time I'd seen my dad I was 10 and still wearing knee socks. Now I was a young woman with a boyfriend. He looked older and worn down by it all, but our love for each other was stronger than ever." Mark, 45, says: "The battle to see my children broke my heart and I worried about the effect it had on them, but giving up was not an option."

Lisa's mum still feels her own pain. She said: "Anything Lisa has said has been influenced by her father. I do not believe anything she has to say should be published. She has only just turned 18 and is still a minor in my eyes."

Lisa said: "I love BOTH my parents. Surely I'm allowed to do that - isn't it every child's right to love their mum and dad?

"I would tell any parent fighting over their kids to put your pain to one side and listen to your children."

Thursday, 22 July 2004

Western Morning News (Plymouth) - Solo protesters who became a dads' army


T HEY'RE the "super-hero" dads who dress up as Spiderman, Batman and Robin and camp out on the rafters of the Tamar Bridge. They've sat out the skin-biting cold of nights atop cranes, and even scaled the Royal Courts of Justice.

Their fondness for heights as a platform for protest is matched by the bitter humour of their costumes.

And one of their number, Ron Davis, catapulted them into the national spotlight by peppering Tony Blair with purple flour in the House of Commons.


Yesterday, up to 100 members of Fathers 4 Justice were threatening more protests, and risking imprisonment, over a Government Green Paper aimed at giving fathers greater access to their children.

Significantly, it did not include any legal presumption to shared parenting and was condemned as "playing politics with children's lives".

This is all dramatic stuff.

Anyone who dismisses the campaigners of Fathers 4 Justice as comic sensation-seekers has overlooked their passionate seriousness. They liken their separation from their children following divorce to a "living bereavement". And they are as well organised as they are motivated.

Their tactics have been vindicated, because F4J, as it is snappily known, has become a phenomenon - so much so that it has even been compared with the civil rights movements of the 1960s. That's how rapidly it has progressed from a few dads whispering of revolution to an organisation that claims up to 10,000 members, and is expanding into Holland, Australia and the USA.

Matt O'Connor, who founded Fathers 4 Justice in December 2002, explained: "It's quite astonishing the sea-change that has come about since F4J came on the scene. We've got so many people wanting to join that we are struggling to cope." He set up F4J along Greenpeace lines with a strategy of attention-grabbing "direct action" protests. These were to be the vehicle for the message.

The gravity of that message has now been underlined with the group's own document - "A Blueprint for Family Law in the 21st Century: The Case for Urgent, Radical Reform".

It sets out the heartbreaking effects of British family law on fathers, mothers, grandparents - but especially children. F4J argues that there should be an automatic presumption in law that both separated parents should have equal contact to their children, unless there are demonstrable reasons otherwise, such as the threat of violence or abuse. The document sets out ten articles for a Bill of Rights for the Family which it wants enshrined in law.

Mr O'Connor said: "Our campaign is for equality between both sexes. We want justice for mothers and fathers." The Tories have backed the call for equal parenting rights - and the Government has been moved to respond with its Green Paper.

That's how far this issue has moved up the national agenda. It is a world removed from a campaign that began with scrawled slogans on placards, solitary fathers chaining themselves, suffragette-like, to railings, or picketing judges' country homes on a Sunday afternoon.

It's happened with great speed, and it was activists in the Westcountry who were at the forefront - not least 45-year-old Mark Harris, who battled for ten years for access to his daughters, and went through a record 133 hearings.

He is an unlikely rebel - a driving instructor from Plympton, Plymouth. But Matt O' Connor describes the man who was often dismissed as a crank as a "trail-blazer".

Mr Harris formed Dads Against Discrimination, a forerunner of F4J, and set about maximising publicity for fathers' rights. It culminated in a hunger strike after he was jailed for contempt of court.

He said: "The fathers' rights movement started here in Devon with protests at judges' houses, and it's developed very well. I was just an ordinary man who wanted to see his children. What the courts did wasn't for the benefit of my kids. But I wouldn't give up and I wouldn't go away." His eldest daughter, aged 17, now lives with him, and he has good contact with the two others, aged 15 and 13. So if he's now a "fit" father, what's different from ten years ago? He says there would be no need for a change in family law if judges applied existing law fairly.

"The natural father has to prove before the courts that he should see them. Even when he's clearly a loving parent, he has to apply and be assessed. It's absurd and cruel," he said.

He believes those early protests created an unstoppable momentum. They were also tapping into wider social symptoms. One reason they converged into a movement was that for each maverick there were many more aggrieved fathers watching from the touchline. British society had changed so radically within a generation that the breakdown of relationships had gone from being an issue concerning scattered individuals to a social problem.

The statistics point up the scale of it. There were more than 147,000 divorces in England and Wales in 2002, the highest since 1996. F4J calculates that 650 children a day have parents who separate or divorce - 237,250 children were affected in 2001. And 40 per cent of marriages end in separation.

That stacks up to a lot of anguish, broken homes, careers cut short and financial hardship.

Jolly Stanesby, 38, from Ivybridge, has become one of F4J's most prolific protesters, spending three days up a crane in Exeter last September, three days on Tower Bridge in December, and seven days up the Tamar Bridge in January.

He's been campaigning for greater access to his five-year-old daughter, and said: "Everyone is either affected or knows someone who is. I spent a day on the roof of the family court in Plymouth, and the fireman who came up on the ladder said: 'Don't worry, I'm going through the same thing'. We've had policemen at the bridge protests who say: 'We've got to do our jobs and bring you down, but we wish we could be up there with you'." He believes the protests have become more spectacular the more that people feel they have nothing left to lose. But that does not mean that change might even yet be painfully slow in coming.

For the "super-hero" dads who feel they can only make their voices heard by taking to the bridges and rooftops, each day of waiting is too long.
.

Wednesday, 19 May 2004

Western Morning News (Plymouth) - Fathers up on roof in new protest



Two men dressed as cartoon superheroes last night ended a day-long rooftop protest at Plymouth Crown and County Court. Veteran protester Jolly Stanesby, 38, from Ivybridge in the South Hams, donned a Spiderman costume and was joined by Gary Swain, 36, from Crewkerne in Somerset, who dressed as Batman. They climbed the building at around 6am yesterday morning and unfurled protest banners to hang over the entrance to the court.

Mr Stanesby said the protest aimed to highlight the alleged injustices suffered by fathers in child custody decisions.

Both he and Mr Frain are members of the pressure group Fathers 4 Justice, which campaigns for equal parenting rights and a legal presumption of contact for parents and grandparents following separation or divorce. According to figures from the Lord Chancellor's Department, 100 children a day lose partial or total contact with their fathers in the UK.

Mr Stanesby last night told the WMN that he had brought provisions to last more than a week but thought he would limit his protest to a day.

Yesterday the city centre court was surrounded by police, who cordoned off the front entrance, although people were still able to enter the building from the side and the day's proceedings were not affected.

Fire engines were also present at the scene with turntable ladders, and a police helicopter periodically hovered overhead.

Motorists honked their horns at the two men and passers-by stopped to read the signs, saying they had mixed feelings about F4Js protest methods.

One family lawyer who works in the court said: "I am meant to be meeting clients whose cases could be delayed because of this - that doesn't seem fair. I do have some sympathy for what they are doing but not the way they are doing it because it disrupts other people's lives." However, another passer-by, 25-year-old Plymothian Adrian Pope, said: "Good on them. They have to defend their rights and I would do the same if I were in their position." Mr Stanesby, a registered childminder, has previously carried out rooftop protests at the Royal Courts of Justice in London's Strand and the Plymouth Courts, as well as spending a week on the gantry of the Tamar Bridge, campaigning for more contact with his five-year-old daughter.

He said: "It has been a year now since we were last up here on the roof of the courts and nothing has really changed since then. There is a lot of talking but there has been no action.

"Our protest is also to preview our main demonstration in London which is taking place on Friday June 18.

"The ball started rolling with Mr Justice Munby's comments last month that the legal system was failing fathers and calling for mothers who ignore contact orders to be jailed. We want other judges to come forward now and add their voice to his." Mr Stanesby said he was also up on the roof to support fellow F4J member Mark Harris, a 45-year-old driving instructor from Plympton, Plymouth, who appeared in the county court yesterday to claim compensation from a child psychiatrist who he alleges was clinically negligent and instrumental in barring him from contact with his children.

Mr Harris, who has notched up some 133 court appearances in ten years, did not see one of his daughters for six years and spent a total of 129 days in prison for contempt of court after he attempted to bribe his former wife to allow him increased contact with their children.

Sunday, 8 June 2003

Sunday Express - BRITISH FATHERS ARE TAKING DIRECT ACTION TO END THE 'LIVING BEREAVEMENT' OF BEING ESTRANGED FROM THEIR CHILDREn

DADS WHO WILL FIGHT TO MAKE THEIR DAY

TONY LEWIS plays happily on the beach with his sons. It is a scene played out the world over but for Tony it is the culmination of years of heartache. He is one of numerous dads who have had to fight for access to their children after their divorce - and he is one of the lucky ones who won his battle.

Throughout the English-speaking world an army of fathers is mobilising against the legal systems it believes are hopelessly biased against fathers. And the commanders are prepared to use militant tactics to win the battle. Australia's militant dads operate under the rather chilling name of the Blackshirts and have earned themselves a reputation for disturbing vigilante tactics in their efforts to secure access to children - standing outside single mothers' homes, making nuisance telephone calls, even abducting children involved in custody disputes.

Here in Britain, divorced and separated fathers are also getting tough. Fathers 4 Justice (F4J) was launched last December with a sit-down protest - by 200 Father Christmases - in the lobby of the Lord Chancellor's Department. The group now numbers 1,200 and has been compared to its Australian counterpart. This Friday, two days before Father's Day, F4J intends to get its message across to a wider audience, and members are anticipating mass arrests.



In the next month four F4J members go on trial, charged with criminal damage after their "purple door" campaign, in which the doors of several Court Welfare offices were painted the colour of international equality. So is this the thin end of the wedge? Are the methods of the Blackshirts coming to Britain? F4J's co-founder Matt O'Connor is adamant the groups have little in common and condemns the Blackshirts as a "thoroughly reprehensible bunch".

According to O'Connor, his group is a civil rights movement which, while it has no truck with intimidation, unapologetically embraces direct action as a way of getting what it wants - to end the "living bereavement" of fathers estranged from their children. To that end F4J seeks to raise public awareness and change the law to give fathers equal rights to see their children. It aims to achieve this within three years.

Many F4J members are prepared to go to jail if necessary. They have already picketed the homes of judges and lawyers involved in the family court system. Co-founder Tony Lewis admits: "I've picketed homes and they don't like it but we don't like being stopped from seeing our kids.

"Both parents should have equality of opportunity to be parents. Neither should be treated like second-class parents. Ending the injustice is what drives me and I'm prepared to go to jail over this."

Lewis, who lives in Great Yarmouth, classes himself one of the "lucky ones".

He has full residency of his two sons, James, eight, and Anthony, seven, but it took 22 court appearances and left him with debts of more than GBP 40,000.

"In many ways I'm a success of the system but the system is, by its adversarial nature, very destructive.

My ex-wife and I went to court and we scrapped good and proper. I was made to feel like a criminal. My advice to anyone is to keep out of court."

Instead, Lewis would like to see a "mediation service with teeth" for estranged couples, with the interests of the children at heart.

In 2001 more than 55,000 contact orders were made in the British courts, affecting more than 80,000 children.

Of these nearly half were flouted yet few were enforced by the courts that issued them. Most judges take the view that penalising the mother would add more stress to the situation. Matt O'Connor points out that such alternatives as community service orders, or a simple transfer of residency, could persuade recalcitrant mothers to comply.

The 1987 Children's Act took away the right of a father to be legal guardian to his children after several high-profile cases of children suffering at the hands of parents, but it made explicit the fact that children should retain the "love and care of both parents". O'Connor believes the system as it stands ignores this proviso.

Dame Elizabeth Butler-Sloss, President of the Family Division, admits that 40 per cent of fathers lose contact with their children within two years of a relationship breakdown.

DRIVING INSTRUCTOR Mark Harris was forced to take on the legal system to gain access to his three daughters. He has made 132 appearances in court.

His increasing frustration has convinced him that direct action is the only way of getting his voice heard. He started picketing the homes of family court judges three years ago.

"I was at my 104th court hearing and I couldn't believe the judge's attitude, " he says. "She wasn't listening, she was supporting the mother regardless. I just thought I had to do something."

Today Harris finally enjoys contact with his children and his eldest daughter recently came to live with him in Plymouth. He fervently believes that the legal system is unfairly loaded against fathers battling to maintain a relationship with their children.

"There needs to be a legal presumption of contact for the father, " he says. "Mum can bring a new boyfriend into the house each week if she wants. They could be anyone, even a paedophile. No one knows, no one cares. Dad's the only person in the world who's not presumed fit to see his children.

"My experience of the legal system makes me convinced it's a corrupt industry. I've waved placards outside the homes of these judges. They live in palaces. That's why they do it. There's a whole industry of barristers, solicitors and child psychiatrists carving a fortune out of our misery."

And mud sticks. Fathers who are prevented from seeing their children in hearings that are held under a cloak of secrecy find that many people take the view that there must be a reason for contact to be withheld by the authorities.

"People assume there must be a problem with the fathers, " says Harris, "that there must be something more behind it, but there's not. It's too ridiculous for words. What passes for justice in a family court has to be seen to be believed."

O'Connor agrees that the current legal set-up does nothing to help. "If divorce is a burning house, then going to the family court is like emptying a plane-load of napalm on the situation."

Southampton barrister Michael Cox is no stranger to the machinations of the law, yet when his first marriage broke up and he was fighting for access to his three sons he found the very legal system in which he earns his living merely made the situation worse.

"My case was fairly typical: Mum was very bitter. I wanted to remain close to my children and the only weapon she could enforce against me was to withhold contact and she did so with gusto. The crux of the system is what's in the best interests of the child.

The system is by its very nature adversarial - appropriate in corporate law, but it has no place in families. It's not in the best interests of a child for each party to have to dig the dirt on the other, to denigrate and besmirch the efforts of the other parent. I say to fathers embarking on this process now - as the law stands, you're going to get shafted."

The commonality of experience between men of all ages and backgrounds has been a powerful recruitment tool for F4J. Hundreds of fathers, as well as grandparents who are denied access, are joining the movement each month.

THIS FRIDAY'S demonstration is being planned with military precision. O'Connor is prepared to give only limited information.

Hundreds of members will descend on a secret location in London and many are prepared to be arrested. There is likely, says O'Connor, to be an "almighty ruckus". It will be followed by another demonstration in Glasgow on Father's Day.

"The fact that people are willing to be hauled off to prison is testament to the strength of feeling out there. It's bloody heartbreaking stuff. We get people ringing up bereft because they can't see their grandchildren; fathers who haven't seen their kids in years. We're trying to make the injustice visible because the suffering is so great, " says O'Connor.

For Michael Cox, involvement in the effort to change a legal system he believes to be unjust is a matter of duty.

"I'm doing this for my sons. They'll be fathers one day and I don't want them to suffer like I did. Women didn't get the vote by asking nicely. You have to make waves.

I don't intend to get arrested on Friday but if push comes to shove, then so be it."

For more information log on to www. fathers-4-justice. org