Campaigning dads stage quay protest

Sep 30 2004

By Evening Gazette


A fathers4justice campaigner who staged a rooftop protest at Buckingham Palace, scaled the mast of Hartlepool's HMS Trincomalee.

"Batman" Jason Hatch, 33, and "Robin" David Pyke, 43, climbed the ship's main mast, at the Historic Quay yesterday.

It comes days after the protest group pulled a similar stunt at Middlesbrough's Transporter Bridge.

Mr Hatch, of Cheltenham, was recently arrested at Buckingham Palace after staging a similar protest there.

Speaking from the crow's nest, Mr Hatch said: "We had to climb the rigging to get up here which was scary as it is a very old ship."

Shortly after 5pm the two men climbed down and were arrested.

The group's election agent, Paul Morgan, said scuffles broke out as the men tried to stage a sit-down protest.

Mr Morgan said: "They came down on the basis that if they came down within the confines of the historic quay they would not be arrested. When they realised this was not going to happen there was a sit-down protest."

A spokesman at Cleveland Police said the two protesters, who were part of a 20-strong group, were taken to Hartlepool police station and questioned.

They were later released on police bail and will reappear at the police station on October 22.

The final effort

Batman sails along Hartlepool's Victoria Road, megaphone in hand.

The fact that he's standing up through the sunroof of his campaign car and possibly breaking the law doesn't seem to bother him.

Perhaps he's banking on the police being more concerned with his fellow Fathers4Justice campaigners camped out high in the rigging of HMS Trincomalee.

A few hundred yards away, outside the Middleton Grange shopping centre, an anarchist in a Tony Blair mask hands out leaflets.

New Labour's open-top battle bus is doing regular circuits of the town centre, but the candidate is nowhere to be seen.

It's Wednesday - the last full day of a long and bruising campaign for the seat vacated by Peter Mandelson - and the signs of fatigue are starting to show.

Polling stations across the town close at 10pm tonight and representatives of some 70 media organisations are expected to descend on the count at the Mill House leisure centre.

Polls suggest this is a two-way shoot-out between Labour's Iain Wright and the Lib Dems' bright young thing, barrister Jody Dunn, with Labour's 14,000-plus majority expected to take, at the very least, a severe battering.

Then there's the sideshow of the Conservatives facing the possible humiliation of being bumped into fourth spot by the UK Independence Party.

UKIP candidate Stephen Allison, decked out in UKIP tie and -sign lapel badge, is bullish: "I've yet to speak to anyone who isn't going to vote for me.

"I've been finding on the doorsteps that Europe is actually a big issue for people once you get them past the local issues."

It certainly seems to have convinced 86-year-old William Smith, from Greatham, who predicts a win for the UKIP.

"I'm fed up with all the politicians - they talk a lot and say nowt and I don't trust them," he says.

Of course local issues have been a prominent feature of most of the candidates' campaigns - the campaign to save the hospital (regardless of whether it's actually under threat), the Ghost Ships and law and order.

There's been squabbling over who's the most "local" candidate - Jody Dunn apparently lives near Darlington but now has a flat in Hartlepool - and mutterings of dark Labour Party machinations - one local figure has suggested Iain Wright won't be the town's candidate at the next General Election regardless of today's result.

The nine-week campaign has also seen its fair share of what passes for "glamour" in the world of the by-election.

Jody Dunn has welcomed party leader Charles Kennedy to the town four times, and Iain Wright's campaign has delighted in visits from a number of Labour big guns and, for light relief, Vera Duckworth from Corrie.

Outside the Lib Dems' York Road HQ the big red bus - still apparently without the main man - goes past again, as Jody Dunn's team loads up their party's big yellow taxi with a batch of bright orange roadside signs.

Don Foster, the party's media, culture and sport spokesman, is upbeat: "The prospects are very good indeed and there's been a real upsurge in support in the last few days."

But then again, in a town which elected a football mascot to office, nothing is certain until the very last vote has been counted.

* Full candidate list: Edward Abrams (English Democrats), Stephen Allison (UK Independence Party), Philip Berriman (independent), John Anthony Bloom (Respect), Ronnie Carroll (independent), Jody Dunn (Liberal Democrats), Paul Michael Watson (Fathers-4-Justice), Christopher Herriot (Socialist Labour Party), Alan "Howling Lord" Hope (The Official Raving Monster Looney Party), Jeremy Peter Middleton (Conservative), Richard Thomas Boycott Rodgers (The Common Good), Iris Ryder (The Green Party), James William Starkey (National Front), and Iain David Wright (Labour).