Saturday, 28 April 2001

Western Morning News (Plymouth) - Judge condemns 'pig-headed' father

A FATHER who "cast himself in the role of martyr" in a high-profile legal battle over his three daughters was yesterday 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, 42, of Plymouth, and his children.

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

He said: "This is an immensely saddening case. It is also a tragedy - a tragedy all the more tragic because the outcome was, as it seems to me, unnecessary and almost entirely avoidable. It is in essence the story of a loving and devoted father and his three daughters. The daughters do not live with him following his divorce from their mother. Mother has residence. The daughters wanted and enjoyed contact with their father."

The judge said the contact was in no significant way opposed or thwarted by the mother, but "all three daughters have ended up opposed to and refusing to participate in contact. The virtually total breakdown of the relationship between the father and his daughters is not, in my judgment, the consequence of anything done or not done by the mother".

Mr Justice Munby, who said the mother and children "desperately" needed a breathing space from Mr Harris, continued: "Here, as it seems to me, the non-residential father's estrangement from his daughters has been directly brought about by his own obstinacy, pig-headedness and blindness.

"Mr Harris is, if truth be told, 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 had been left, he said, with a "beleaguered feeling of being stalked and harassed".

Mr Harris, who is serving a ten-month sentence for contempt of court, had his application for release from prison rejected.

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