Fathers' group targets UK queen


Saturday, December 25, 2004 Posted: 9:31 AM EST (1431 GMT)

LONDON, England (Reuters) -- British police arrested eight fathers' rights activists on Saturday after an abortive attempt to scale a church on Queen Elizabeth's country estate.

Fathers 4 Justice -- famous for pelting Prime Minister Tony Blair with a flour-filled condom in parliament and breaking into the queen's Buckingham Palace this year -- was hoping for a similarly high-profile Christmas Day stunt.

Some 14 campaigners descended before dawn on the queen's Sandringham estate, in eastern England, to try and get one of them onto the church roof dressed as Santa before the royal family were due there for morning service.

But police, who track the group closely given their remarkable security breaches earlier in the year, swooped with dogs before they could reach the church.

"It was worth a stab. It was too good an opportunity not to have a go," F4J founder Matthew O'Connor told Reuters.

"It was a bit like 'Colditz' in the end, lots of coppers and Alsatians tucking into some legs for an early Christmas lunch."

Police said eight men were being held for breach of the peace offences, and insisted none had entered the estate.

But F4J, whose past stunts brought mockery and recriminations on security chiefs at a time of heightened alert over terrorism, said members had briefly entered the grounds.

"We have a big pot of ideas we dip into, mainly daredevil stuff. Some comes off, some doesn't. Remember that 2004 isn't finished yet!" O'Connor added.

The protester designated to climb up the church roof on Saturday was to have displayed a picture of just-resigned Home Secretary David Blunkett and a banner saying "Put the Father back into Christmas."

Blunkett left Blair's cabinet this month after being accused of abusing his office to do favors for a former lover.

He is involved in a custody dispute with her, making him a tongue-in-cheek poster-boy for the group campaigning against what it says is court bias towards mothers in determining how much access divorcing parents should have to their children.

While only a small pressure group, F4J has stolen disproportionate headlines and attention to its cause through an extraordinary string of stunts in the last year, including scaling some of the highest-profile landmarks in Britain.