Fathers 4 Justice body plans Ulster campaign

By Jonathan McCambridge

16 September 2004

Controversial crusading group Fathers 4 Justice today pledged to bring their high profile campaign of exposing security lapses to Ulster.

The local branch of the group have said they have a plan to "close Northern Ireland down" to highlight the plight of fathers who they feel have been unfairly treated by the courts.

The group caused widespread outrage this week after one of their protesters, dressed as Batman, scaled Buckingham Palace using a ladder and remained on a balcony for almost five hours.

Northern Ireland co-ordinator of Fathers 4 Justice Russell Leecocke, from Randalstown, said they had 140 members in the province and they were "prepared to go to jail" to gain access to their children.

All the major political parties in Northern Ireland have previously given their support to the local group in their attempts to have the law here changed to give both parents equal access in custody cases.

Mr Leecocke said: "It is very rare in Northern Ireland that a father is given any real access to a child."

Mr Leecocke said he knew in advance that Fathers 4 Justice member Jason Hatch was going to stage a protest at Buckingham Palace.

He said: "Jason is a decent, hardworking guy like the rest of us who just wants to be given the right to see his children. Once again we have shown serious lapses of security within the system; it shows how desperate fathers are to see their children."

Mr Leecocke said the group was prepared to use similar shock tactics in Northern Ireland, possibly using the tactic of blocking roads.

"We had plans to close Northern Ireland down which we were going to use several months ago but it was aborted at the last minute. However, we intend to go for it again although I will not talk about our tactics.

"We are not a threat to the police or the public here but we do have a plan to close down Northern Ireland. We are prepared to go to jail for the cause of losing our children."

The Fathers 4 Justice group has been in the spotlight for some time because of its high-profile and often disruptive protests.

Earlier this year the group attacked Tony Blair with condoms full of purple dust during Prime Minister's Question Time in the House of Commons.

Protester Jason Hatch was yesterday bailed by police following his Buckingham Palace stunt.