Sunday, 29 April 2001

THE DAILY TELEGRAPH(LONDON) - Judge brands 'martyr' father as a charlatan

A FATHER who "cast himself as a martyr" in a high-profile legal battle over his three daughters was described by a High Court judge yesterday as an "unprincipled charlatan" who should have no direct contact with them.

Mr Justice Munby said the children's welfare was best served by them having no direct contact with Mark Harris, 42, a driving instructor from Plymouth.

He referred to one of a number of demonstrations by supporters of Mr Harris outside the homes of various judges. The demonstrations were publicised on the internet.

Posters were displayed criticising Dame Elizabeth Butler-Sloss, president of the Family Division.

One read: "If BSE-infected meat is bad for kids . . . why is this mad cow in charge of Family Courts?"

Mr Justice Munby, sitting in the Family Division in London, said: "No amount of intimidation, whether demonstrating outside their homes, vilifying them on the internet or bombarding them with offensive letters, will have any effect on the judges or their families, or deflect the judges from their sworn duty to do right to all manner of people without fear or favour affection or ill-will, or alter their approaches to the cases they are called upon to try."

The judge said Mr Harris's daughters had lived with their mother following her divorce from him. The daughters wanted and enjoyed contact with their father.

The judge said that the mother did not significantly oppose contact, but "all three daughters have ended up opposed to and refusing to participate".

He said: "Mr Harris is the author of his own immense misfortune. He is also, even though he probably cannot recognise it, the cause of the blighting of his daughters' lives."

The mother and children have been left, he said, with a "beleaguered feeling of being stalked and harassed".

The judge said one reason he was giving his ruling in open court was that the case had been promoted as a cause celebre both by Mr Harris and by a number of campaigning organisations, including Families Need Fathers, the Equal Parenting Council, the UK Men's Movement and the group set up by Mr Harris himself, Dads Against Discrimination.

Mr Justice Munby said: "Mr Harris has cheerfully cast himself and allowed and encouraged others to cast him in the role of martyr.

"I believe there is a public interest in the members of these organisations knowing just how they have been bamboozled and cynically manipulated by a man, devoid of all moral scruple, who is singularly ill-suited either to assume the martyr's crown or to act as an ambassador for such organisations.

"Mr Harris has manipulated the press by feeding it tendentious accounts of these proceedings, enabled to do so because he has been able hypocritically to shelter behind the very privacy of the proceedings which hitherto has prevented anyone correcting his misrepresentations."

Mr Harris, who is serving a 10-month sentence for contempt of court, was in court for the ruling, as were a number of his supporters.

The judge rejected an application by Mr Harris to "purge" his contempt and release him from prison "to start with a clean sheet".

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