Saturday, 24 March 2001

Mark Harris Jailed

IN THE HIGH COURT IN LONDON YESTERDAY , a loving & devoted dad was JAILED FOR 10 MONTHS for trying to remain a parent to his three daughters (10, 11 & 14).

Mark (36) came into contact with EQUAL PARENTING COUNCIL a couple of years ago and I've kept in touch with him and his case ever since. He's a driving instructor from Plymouth - a thoroughly nice, down to earth bloke, who just loves his children to bits, and (like all of us) doesn't understand why the family courts have failed to stop his ex wife's determined efforts to exclude him for his daughters' lives FOR NO GOOD REASON.


Mark was jailed for 10 months and fined £500 for contempt of court, because he did the following:

Greeted his children when he encountered them, when apparently he should have vanished immediately he saw them;
Drove into an "exclusion zone" in the hope that he might see his kids whilst he was conducting driving lessons;
Handed a birthday present, and a note to his children without first having them vetted by social services (although no complaint was made about the gift or note);
Had his girlfriend send to one of his daughters a copy of an article in the local press which reported on Mark's campaigning for reform of the family court system. (This is the closest Judge Munby got to revealing his true motive in jailing Mark - more on that below);
Sent a postdated cheque to the mother for £900 saying she could cash it if she persuaded one daughter to start seeing him again.
These terrible actions were found to be in defiance of court orders and justified Mark being immediately removed from the court in handcuffs.

Judge Munby said that, in sentencing Mark, he had taken account of the fact that none of the breaches involved any violence or threats of violence. He said he had also considered the fact that all these actions were motivated by Mark's desire to re-establish his parenting relationship with his daughters.

It was accepted that there was no evidence of any harm being caused by any of these breaches of various court orders.

I would add that, previously, Munby had commented that, with all these orders and injunctions which had accumulated over time, their effect was difficult even for lawyers to decipher, let alone someone trying to represent themselves in court. (Mark has mainly represented himself for financial reasons, while the mother has run up hundreds of thousands of pounds on Legal Aid.) Munby conveniently forgot this when he sent Mark down yesterday for 10 months for failing to obey the various orders.


He said that Mark's worst punishment was self inflicted, because these actions (and his "other antics which did not involve contempt" of court) meant that his children now wanted to have nothing whatever to do with him. Munby called this Mark's sheer "stupidity".

Well, just who is the stupid one here? Mark is a man who has tried everything within his power to overcome the poisoning of his children's minds against him. He is a loving, devoted father (Munby's own words from previous day's Judgment), a decent, hardworking man who simply can't understand why the State would support this amoral behaviour. How is he supposed to re-build his relationship with children he can never see or contact!?

It is the State and this Judge who are teaching these children to hate their father and to treat his attempts to see them with utter contempt. Now this Judge has made him into a convict. Yet these same courts routinely say that they can't jail mothers for breaching contact orders with impunity, because jailing the mother would not be in the best interests of the children. But jailing the father for trivialities is perfectly acceptable!?


Mark has led a number of protests outside Judges' houses, supported by many other separated parents who have also been excluded from their children's lives for no good reason. More are planned. These protests have been hitting home and the judges want them to stop. So, in my view, they decided to imprison the ringleader for 10 months - it's as simple and disgraceful as that!

Of course, most separated parents in Mark's position give up because it's virtually impossible to get anywhere through the courts, who continue to show no interest in promoting shared parenting, as Parliament wanted. Family court judges are in contempt of Parliament - they treat public opinion with contempt every day.

Had Mark given up and abandoned his children, and then tried to pick up with them a year or so later, the courts would have said his relationship could not be re-established with them because he had not made any effort to keep in touch! As a parent who can't live with your children, you are damned if you do, and damned if you don't!


Immediately before the jailing of Mark, I had lunch with him. His lawyers were not expecting him to be jailed, but he was clearly a bit frightened and apprehensive. He told me that if he was sent to jail, he would go on an immediate TOTAL HUNGER STRIKE - no food or liquid - and he would commit suicide at the first opportunity. I pray that will not happen, although I can understand the despair Mark must be feeling.


I hope the Authorities will act swiftly to correct Munby's Madness, before Mark's children suffer an irrevocable blow that could have an appalling impact on the rest of their lives.

I would also hope that Munby will not be allowed to have any further involvement in this, probably the worst British access case in history. It has been going on for many years and Munby was supposed to sort it out. Instead, he has made a bad situation far worse.

Although the children, post divorce, had enjoyed good "contact" with their dad, that contact was allowed to dwindle to nothing because the courts failed to support the children's right to both parents. Munby followed the usual line British courts take, of ordering the status quo - ie. no contact, save that he may send Christmas cards, birthday cards, and a summer postcard.

Munby's rambling Judgment (the day before the committal) is flawed in many respects. He placed reliance on an Expert witness he found to be deceitful, omitted important facts which supported Mark's case, and displayed bias and a total lack of understanding of the dynamics involved in a high conflict children case.

Assuming Mark stays alive, I have not the slightest doubt that Munby will be appealed and that ultimately this case will come before the European Court of Human Rights.

I was accompanied in court yesterday by two of my oldest and best friends who were both utterly stunned by what they saw. One is visiting from the USA, and I must say I felt ashamed of Judge Munby's brutal display of power and total lack of compassion. In common with most people who have had direct experience of the British family court system, my faith in British "Justice" has reached rock bottom. No doubt Judge Munby would call me stupid too!

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