Monday, 17 November 1997

DAILY MAIL (London) - Father is sent to jail for waving to his children;

A FATHER has been jailed for four months after being filmed waving to his children.

Mark Harris had been denied access to his three young daughters after a dispute with his ex-wife.

But when he stood at the end of her road to wave and blow kisses to the girls as they were driven to school, he was videoed by a private detective acting for Mrs Harris.

Last week a judge jailed the divorced driving instructor for four months for breaking the court order banning him from seeing his children, Lisa, Laura and Lindsey.

Speaking from Exeter Prison last night, 36-year-old Mr Harris, from Plympton, near Plymouth, said: 'I was stunned when he said I was going to prison.

'I am the only man in here for a non-criminal offence.
'It means my business is destroyed and my daughters now know they have a jailbird for a father.

'It is madness to send me here.

I have no idea what the judge was thinking.' Mr Harris was divorced from wife Tania in 1993. Since then the couple have been to court several times during an increasingly bitter dispute over access to their daughters aged ten, eight and six. Finally, after a dispute with his ex-wife's new partner, Mr Harris's twice-weekly access was withdrawn by a court. He said: 'I was desperate to see the girls, to let them know that I still cared about them and had not forgotten them.

'All I did was to stand on the roadside and blow a kiss and wave as they drove by. How can that be worth sending a man to jail when real criminals are getting let off every day?' Mr Harris was unable to obt-tain another telephone card to call out again last night and the prison governor refused permission for the Daily Mail to telephone him.

But a spokesman for the Families Need Fathers organisation, which fights for men's rights in family court disputes, said: 'We view this decision as bordering on the insane. To take a law-abiding businessman and lock him in a jail for four months with criminals cannot be sane or right.

'The problem is, as ever, that where there is a difficulty with access it is always the father who suffers. There is an all pervasive assumption that the mother is always right.

'All this has done is jail a perfectly decent man who wanted to see his children. And who wouldn't?' Mrs Harris's legal team argued that his appearances in Moor-land Road, Plympton, did not stop at waving and blowing kisses, but included flashing his car's headlamps and following her and her children - something Mr Harris denies.

Mark Harper, of the Solicitors' Family Law Association, said yesterday: 'If someone is in persistent breach of court order then the court has power to jail someone for up to two years. In the light of this four months is not too severe.' But in a letter from his cell to a close friend, Mr Harris wrote: 'I only wanted my children to know I still existed. It's crazy and I cannot understand why I am here.'

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