Saturday, 28 April 2001

Evening Herald (Plymouth) - Dad loses fight over children, Judge rules in open court

A FATHER who 'cast himself in the role of martyr' in a high-profile legal battle over his children was today described by a High Court judge as an 'unprincipled charlatan' who should have no direct contact with his children.

Mr Justice Munby, sitting in the court's Family Division in London, took the unusual step of giving his ruling in open court in an 'immensely saddening case' involving contact between Mark Harris, a 42-year-old from Plymouth, and his children.

The judge said he had been driven to the unavoidable conclusion 'that the welfare of all the children is best served by there being no direct contact with Mr Harris' and that there should be, at present, a reduced amount of indirect contact.

He said: "It is in essence the story of a loving and devoted father and his children. The children do not live with him following his divorce from their mother. Mother has residence. The children wanted and enjoyed contact with their father."

The judge said the contact was not opposed or thwarted by the mother, but 'all three children have ended up opposed to and refusing to participate in contact'.

Mr Justice Munby said the mother and children needed a breathing space from Harris who had made them feel 'stalked and harassed'.

Harris, who is serving a 10-month sentence for contempt of court, was present for yesterday's ruling, flanked by security officers. His supporters were also in court.

The judge rejected an application by Harris to 'purge' his contempt and release him from prison.

Mr Justice Munby, who said he must return to prison, said Harris had carried out a 'deliberate campaign of lawless defiance of the court'.

He added the case had been presented as a 'cause celebre' by Harris and campaign organisations. He said: "Her Majesty's judges will not be deterred from doing their duty by such antics as Mr Harris and his associates have chosen to indulge in. 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."

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