Fathers arrested over conference protest

John Martin
Friday October 29, 2004

Fathers 4 Justice protestors have overpowered police and stormed a
conference on family law, setting off smoke bombs and flares and
forcing the evacuation of the building.

The fathers' rights group was hoping to get the chance to
remonstrate with the children and families minister, Lord Filkin,
outside the conference venue, which is next to the Regent's canal in
north London.

The group's spokesman, Matt O'Connor, told SocietyGuardian.co.uk
that the minister could have found himself "in at the deep end".

Acting on a tip-off, the police stationed three divers and a dinghy
in the canal as a precaution, and more than 30 policemen were
brought in to guard the conference centre.

But the group's plan to confront Lord Filkin was thwarted by the
fact that he had been reshuffled out of his family law role in
September. His replacement, Baroness Ashton, addressed the
conference before the protestors arrived.

The protest began at 11.30 when two men, one an able-bodied man in a
wheelchair, had attempted to gain access to the conference run by
the charity Children Law UK, after registering as members of a bogus

Their names were passed on to the Metropolitan police who identified
them as members of the group Fathers 4 Justice, and they were turned
away at the door.

The plan had been for the man in the wheelchair to "stage a
miraculous recovery" in the conference hall and disrupt the meeting,
said Mr O'Connor.

Fifteen policemen and police divers had been drafted in after the
organisers got wind of the operation: but at lunchtime 15 protestors
overpowered police on the door and set off flares in the foyer.

Fire alarms were set off, forcing the building, which is home to the
National Council of Voluntary Organisations, to be evacuated.

Around 20 extra police were brought in and prevented the men from
gaining access to the conference hall. Eight men were arrested.

The conference has now restarted and is due to be addressed by Dame
Elizabeth Butler-Sloss, the head of the family division at the high

Mr O'Connor said: "We have had a protest outside the family law
conference. Unfortunately our original plan was rumbled but we got
15 people inside and flares were set off after two policemen were

"There are policemen in a dinghy on the canal. The conference has
restarted but we want to make as much noise as possible."

He said the stunt was prompted by an interview with Lord Filkin
published in the Guardian yesterday, in which the minister described
as "wet" those fathers who did not persist in getting contact with
their children after the first knockback.

"Well, we are beside a canal," said Mr O'Connor. "He could have been
in at the deep end."

Glyn Farrow, the spokesman for the conference organisers,
said: "Children Law UK appreciates the experience of fathers who
have been unable to maintain contact with their children.

"Events such as ours are designed to explore all possibilities as to
how such contact may be maintained.

"It is a shame that seminars such as this which aim to highlight
possible improvements to current practice should be disrupted. This
has the impact of delaying discussion and debate which may lead to
changes in current practice that could lead to improvements for
fathers in future cases."

He said the fire alarm was set off during a speech by John Baker of
Families Need Fathers, another group campaigning for greater access
for fathers in contact cases.