Wednesday, 19 May 2004

Western Morning News (Plymouth) - Fathers up on roof in new protest

Two men dressed as cartoon superheroes last night ended a day-long rooftop protest at Plymouth Crown and County Court. Veteran protester Jolly Stanesby, 38, from Ivybridge in the South Hams, donned a Spiderman costume and was joined by Gary Swain, 36, from Crewkerne in Somerset, who dressed as Batman. They climbed the building at around 6am yesterday morning and unfurled protest banners to hang over the entrance to the court.

Mr Stanesby said the protest aimed to highlight the alleged injustices suffered by fathers in child custody decisions.

Both he and Mr Frain are members of the pressure group Fathers 4 Justice, which campaigns for equal parenting rights and a legal presumption of contact for parents and grandparents following separation or divorce. According to figures from the Lord Chancellor's Department, 100 children a day lose partial or total contact with their fathers in the UK.

Mr Stanesby last night told the WMN that he had brought provisions to last more than a week but thought he would limit his protest to a day.

Yesterday the city centre court was surrounded by police, who cordoned off the front entrance, although people were still able to enter the building from the side and the day's proceedings were not affected.

Fire engines were also present at the scene with turntable ladders, and a police helicopter periodically hovered overhead.

Motorists honked their horns at the two men and passers-by stopped to read the signs, saying they had mixed feelings about F4Js protest methods.

One family lawyer who works in the court said: "I am meant to be meeting clients whose cases could be delayed because of this - that doesn't seem fair. I do have some sympathy for what they are doing but not the way they are doing it because it disrupts other people's lives." However, another passer-by, 25-year-old Plymothian Adrian Pope, said: "Good on them. They have to defend their rights and I would do the same if I were in their position." Mr Stanesby, a registered childminder, has previously carried out rooftop protests at the Royal Courts of Justice in London's Strand and the Plymouth Courts, as well as spending a week on the gantry of the Tamar Bridge, campaigning for more contact with his five-year-old daughter.

He said: "It has been a year now since we were last up here on the roof of the courts and nothing has really changed since then. There is a lot of talking but there has been no action.

"Our protest is also to preview our main demonstration in London which is taking place on Friday June 18.

"The ball started rolling with Mr Justice Munby's comments last month that the legal system was failing fathers and calling for mothers who ignore contact orders to be jailed. We want other judges to come forward now and add their voice to his." Mr Stanesby said he was also up on the roof to support fellow F4J member Mark Harris, a 45-year-old driving instructor from Plympton, Plymouth, who appeared in the county court yesterday to claim compensation from a child psychiatrist who he alleges was clinically negligent and instrumental in barring him from contact with his children.

Mr Harris, who has notched up some 133 court appearances in ten years, did not see one of his daughters for six years and spent a total of 129 days in prison for contempt of court after he attempted to bribe his former wife to allow him increased contact with their children.

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