If you're a pressure group and measure success
purely in terms of column inches achieved then Fathers 4 Justice must be
feeling pretty smug.
After all, their flour bombing of Tony Blair in the
Commons certainly got them publicity - yards and yards of it. But it led
some to wonder out loud, if that was their idea of mature protest, was it
any wonder the courts took a dim view of their contact rights - the main
cause of their unhappiness. Others though said it merely reflected
desperation at the state of family law.
Fathers 4 Justice held a rally in London - ahead of
Fathers Day. So what drives this group's strategy? Richard Watson gained
access to the heart of their operations in the run-up to the march.
(Fathers for Justice)
This campaign will change. We will keep chopping and changing strategy. We
will challenge the police and the public in the coming months.
In the quiet reaches of Suffolk countryside lies the nerve centre for
perhaps the fastest growing campaign in Britain, Fathers for Justice.
Earlier this week tucked away in the grounds of a 13th century manner, the
movement's founder, Matt O'Connor is finalising plans.
It's the most stressful time. Just trying to cope. I think some of the
guys are coming up this afternoon. Then we've got a full house tomorrow.
When it gets to the point where that is likely to be the case, can you
ring and say, "if I don't get in this the next hour I'll put a few
fireworks up people's back sides". Thanks for calling me. Matt
Fathers for Justice is run by Matt and one assistant out of this room.
They can barely cope with the increased demand for information, especially
after activists flour bombed Tony Blair last month, which created a
security scare in Parliament.
The Labour Party was forged in the fires of civil disobedience. It amazes
me that the party has forgotten their roots.
No regrets about that?
Categorically not. Fathers for Justice always claim and account for our
actions. There's always a bit of humour in it. Condom for obvious reasons,
self- raising flour, again for obvious reasons. It got them off their feet
This stuff is against the law though.
That is the nature of this organisation. We do explore the outer
extremities of the law. We break the law deliberately and are prepared to
be held for account for that. Whether or not we're right, we'll let
history be our judge.
Matt O'Connor who launched the group 18 months after a messy divorce drove
50,000 miles last year, mainly he said, to avoid being monitored by the
police. Direct action is the key to the group's fast growing support, but
can he be sure some supporters won't go too far? Last weekend activists
claiming to be from Fathers for Justice sabotaged a television transmitter
in Shropshire. It has nothing to do with us. In fact I was annoyed with
that; my children were with me at the time. I wanted some peaceful time
with my children. I switched my phone off on Sunday morning because of the
number of calls I was getting about this transmitter incident. Let's face
it, hopefully we've got a degree of savvy about us. Who wants to switch
off a transmitter during Euro 2004 and hack off the people we're trying to
You could get mavericks out there, you do some extreme things.
Last week we warned Scotland Yard about concerns that we'd had about a
possible splinter group. There is very little we can do about that apart
from keeping the vast majority of people in this organisation on board and
disciplined. Our coordinators sign up to a national agreement, which I
will show you. We have national coordinator's meetings. We run it like a
Fantastic. That's really good.
The campaign's focus is beginning to shift from men in tights to more
serious discussion. Today is a big day, the first copies of Father for
Justice's so-called "Blueprint" for the complete overhaul of the
family law courts is ready. The group says hearings are secretive, costly
and take too long. Some women are maliciously blocking contact by creating
allegations of abuse. Some women refuse to comply and nothing is done to
enforce the contact orders.
How do we build a fair and just in family law not just for now, but for
the next 25 years? This is about starting from scratch. It's very radical.
I know it's difficult because Government moves slowly. But I think that's
what's needed, radical reform. That's what this document says. It's a case
for urgent, radical reform.
Are you saying then that the majority of men who aren't getting the
contact with their kids, are being unjustly denied that contact? You're
absolutely clear about that. Some people would argue that in many cases
they are feckless, they're somehow irresponsible.
It's not just Fathers for Justice saying it. It's the judges, the
solicitors and the politicians increasingly. People are beginning to
recognise that our family justice system is failing fathers, mothers and
children. It needs to go and it needs to go now.
Back at the office, they're fine tuning the campaign. Fathers for Justice
says it's choosing music for superhero dads ready for the march in London.
But are all the dads who've been denied contact really superheroes or are
some a threat to women and children?
Women's groups are saying in the vast majority of cases
when women are denying contact there's a good reason for it, that's
because men are dangerous.
That's not borne out in any way, shape or form. I've just cited two high
profile judgments. This is about children and about good, loving parents.
What is your view, when there is proven evidence of domestic violence in
the family perpetrated by the man, for example, for argument sake, do you
think contact should be automatically sanctioned by the court, should it
I'm not here to take about domestic violence, I'm here to talk about
family law. Let's make a very clear differentiation. If you want to talk
about domestic violence then do a programme about that. But if the child's
at risk from any parent, then the child protection authorities need to
At the march in London today, we spoke to several men who told us they'd
be denied contact after unsubstantiated allegations of abuse or violence
with made. We're legally prevented from reporting these in detail.
Campaigners here say much can be done to improve the family court system.
Allegations of abuse should be dealt with swiftly. There should be a
presumption of equal parenting duties and contact time. Currently 22
members of Fathers for Justice are facing prosecution for public order
offences. We were told if all the key people were arrested the group would
roll out plan zero, widespread civil disobedience.
Our democracy, our Parliamentarians have failed not just fathers, not just
mothers, they've failed our children. They've known about this for years.
I hold this democracy in contempt.
They claim their arguments are slowly gaining ground with solicitors,
judges and politicians. They point out some women, often new partners,
support their views. The group maintains that breaking the law has caused
their strategy, a raise in the profile of child contact and family law.
This transcript was produced from the teletext
subtitles that are generated live for Newsnight. It has been checked
against the programme as broadcast, however Newsnight can accept no
responsibility for any factual inaccuracies. We will be happy to correct