Fathers 4 Justice
Fathers 4 Justice (or F4J) is a fathers’ rights organisation in the United Kingdom. Since being founded in 2002 it has received widespread media coverage, particularly from stunts and protests, often conducted in costume.
Fathers 4 Justice was founded in the UK by Matt O'Connor, a marketing consultant. Following separation from his wife in 2000, after which he admitted to being "a lousy husband", suffering anger, drink and mental health problems, O'Connor became a prominent critic of UK family law after a court barred him from seeing his young sons outside of a contact centre. A journalist who interviewed him described him as 'aggressive'. In 2013 another journalist accused him of making "overblown statements about himself" and comparing himself to Nelson Mandela. He was also accused of abusing and harassing a female MP
F4J's stated aim is to champion the cause of equal parenting, family law reform and equal contact for divorced parents with children. It is well known for its campaigning techniques of dramatic protest stunts, usually dressed as comic book superheroes and frequently scaling public buildings, bridges and monuments.
Stunts have included supporters storming courts dressed in Father Christmas outfits, clapping the Government's ‘Children’s Minister’ in handcuffs, and most notably group member Jason Hatch climbing onto Buckingham Palace dressed as Batman. They have also protested by handcuffing two government ministers.
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On 17 December 2002, O'Connor and a small group of supporters staged their first protest by storming the Lord Chancellor's Office dressed as Father Christmas. In January 2003, O'Connor officially founded Fathers 4 Justice. The group targeted the homes of family court judges and family lawyers' homes and offices with traditional protests.
On 21 October 2003, campaigners Eddie "Goldtooth" Gorecki and Jonathan "Jolly" Stanesby scaled the Royal Courts of Justice, dressed respectively as Batman and Robin. The following day, the group’s members rallied through London around a military tank in solidarity with Goreckwi and Stanesby.
Nine days later, group member David Chick scaled a 120 feet (37 m) crane near Tower Bridge, London dressed as Spider-Man. The Metropolitan Police set up a cordon around the area that disrupted traffic through some of East London for several days. Chick was subsequently cleared and published a ghost-written autobiography in February 2006.
On the morning of 22 December 2003, four campaigners – Eddie Gorecki, Jolly Stanesby, Michael Sadeh and Steve Battlershill – dressed as Father Christmas and climbed on top of Tower Bridge. They hung up a banner calling for the resignation of the Minister for Children Margaret Hodge, who they held responsible for perceived inequalities in family law. The four were charged with conspiracy, but the charge was dropped at the start of the trial a year later.
In 2004 Stanesby carried out a "citizen's arrest" of Margaret Hodge at a conference, handcuffing himself to her and stating "Margaret Hodge, I'm arresting you for covering up child abuse." Both Stanseby and Jason Hatch (who had also attempted to handcuff himself to Hodge) were later cleared by a jury of charges of false imprisonment.
On 19 May 2004, a major alert was caused when two members of the group threw purple flour bombs at Tony Blair during Prime Minister's Questions at the House of Commons. Following the House of Commons incident The Times wrote that the group "has succeeded in becoming the most prominent guerrilla pressure group in Britain ... within eighteen months of its founding."
In September 2004 the group made headlines around the world when member Jason Hatch scaled the walls of Buckingham Palace dressed as Batman. All charges relating to his protest were later dropped.
In May 2005, campaigners dressed as superheroes protested on top of the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield during the World Snooker Championship. Five years later, campaigners would interrupt an interview with Steve Davis, causing the BBC to cut to a pre-recorded video segment.
On 27 September 2005, protester Guy Harrison scaled The Houses of Parliament unveiling a banner stating "Does Blair care? For Fawkes sake change family law." A jury acquitted him of the charge of committing a public nuisance offence.
In November 2005, the group received negative publicity when the prime-time ITV programme Tonight With Trevor McDonald appeared to expose some of its members as violent and obnoxious in their behaviour. However, counter-claims have been made that these were never members in the first place and that the programme gave no right to reply.
Some members were expelled but the organisation defended its position and attacked the documentary. On 23 November 2005, Fathers 4 Justice ended its truce with the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (CAFCASS) and the Child Support Agency (CPS), calling for a public inquiry into family law.
During January 2006 the British newspaper The Sun published a story in which it claimed fringe F4J members planned to kidnap Leo Blair, the young son of former Prime Minister Tony Blair 'for a few hours as a symbolic gesture'. The police said they were aware of such a plan, but added it had probably never progressed beyond the "chattering stage". Downing Street refused to confirm or deny the existence of a plot as it does not comment on matters concerning the Prime Minister's children.
Founder O'Connor condemned the alleged plot and threatened to shut down the group because of it. Within days, Fathers 4 Justice had been disbanded.
On 20 May 2006, Fathers 4 Justice protested during the showing of the BBC lottery show "The National Lottery: Jet Set". The show was taken off-air for several minutes after six Fathers 4 Justice protesters ran from the audience onto the stage displaying posters. The protesters were soon removed from the studio and the lottery draws were hurriedly finished in order to start coverage of the 2006 Eurovision Song Contest. A group spokesman stated afterwards that the incident marked a "dramatic return" of Fathers 4 Justice.
In March 2006 F4J member and barrister Michael Cox was jailed for refusing to pay money he owed to the Child Support Agency. Cox told a hearing in Southampton he refused to pay on principle, as he had joint custody of his children, and his former wife wrote to the court in support of him.
On 8 June 2008, two fathers from Fathers 4 Justice climbed onto the roof of Labour deputy leader Harriet Harman's house wearing superhero-style costumes dubbed "Captain Conception" and "Cash Gordon". One of the pair, Mark Harris, said he wanted fathers to have the same right as their mothers' new partners. He also said they would not come down unless Harman read his book, "Family Court Hell". Harris later received a conditional discharge while his colleague Jolly Stanesby was jailed for two months.
In the same month, Bristol Family Court was evacuated after a protest by around 30 F4J supporters.
On 9 July 2008, another set of fathers who were not part of the F4J organisation, this time in Spider-Man and Batman outfits, scaled Harman's roof and draped a banner emblazoned "Stop The War On Dads". Nigel Ace, the Spider-Man character, called for legal reforms through a loudhailer on the roof. Harman claimed the group had never sought democratic dialogue with her, but O'Connor claimed he had been ignored after trying to get in touch through his MP Mark Oaten.
In July 2011 F4J marched outside of British Prime Minister David Cameron's home in Oxfordshire prior to staging a hunger strike just outside his home. The protest was conducted by F4J founder Matt O'Connor and supported by F4J member Pete Nicholls and O'Connors wife Nadine. The move was to highlight the campaign groups anger at the Prime Ministers recent comments made on Fathers Day 2011 referencing 'Feckless Fathers' and 'Heroic Single Mothers'. The group considered the Prime Ministers comments to be misleading, in particularly poor taste given the date and designed to win female voter support whilst ignoring the contentious issue of fathers rights to see their children post relationship split. The Hunger Strike ended after O'Connor's health deteriorated and a letter was received from the Prime Minister clarifying his position as supportive of fathers and political / legislative changes designed to improve fathers' access to their children. This protest also marked a public change of apparel for the F4J supporters moving from Super Hero costumes last used in 2008, and instead now donning black suits and ties in recognition of their serious intentions and the 'living bereavement' of parents denied access to their children.
In September 2011 a number of F4J supporters including Matt O'Connor staged a peaceful protest outside the front of Buckingham Palace during 'Changing of the Guard' ceremony. In response to what the group considered to be heavy-handed Police presence, and a reversal of earlier permission to stage the meeting, a number of F4J members then handcuffed themselves to the palace railings, one, Tony Ashby, doing so after climbing up onto a gate post. Those handcuffed to the fence included Matt O'Connor, Dr. Nadim Safdar and Jolly Stanesby. In January 2012 the Metropolitan Police wrote to all protesters with their decision not to pursue any charges against those attending.
In 2012, F4J staged a naked protest inside the Oxford Street branch of retailer Marks and Spencer in order to protest the shop's advertising on parenting website Mumsnet, which F4J believes "promotes gender hatred".
In June 2013 Paul Manning glued a picture of his 11 year old son to The Haywain. Two weeks earlier Tim Haries did the same to a picture of the Queen. The group's founder, Matt O'Connor vowed to target other art works in order to highlight his campaign.
Children & Families Bill
In April 2010, Fathers4Justice aligned themselves with the Conservative Party, as it had accepted the need to change family law, promising legislation if they won a majority at the 2010 General election. However, the Conservatives did not win an overall majority and formed a coalition with the Liberal Democrats, based upon a 'Coalition Agreement', which included aspects of the Fathers4Justice agenda. This included 'encouraging shared parenting' and promised 'a comprehensive review of family law in order to increase the use of mediation when couples do break up, and to look at how best to provide greater access rights to non-resident parents and grandparents'. In accordance with the Coalition Agreement, the Government initiated a number of reviews, including the Family Justice Review (The Norgrove Report)  and the Co-operative Parenting Consultation, to which the Government responded. After the consultations, the Government brought forward the Children & Families Bill, designed to legislate on a number of areas, including the family legal system; specifically on contact orders, improving post-separation mediation, and on the issue of shared parenting, plans to amend the Children Act (1989) to introduce a new presumption in favour of a child having a relationship with both parents - all areas upon which Fathers4Justice has campaigned, and on which the Conservative Party had agreed to act if elected to power. Whilst legal experts agreed these proposals were a considerable improvement on the previous situation it did not fully reflect the position of Fathers4Justice, and the group criticised the Coalition for not implementing its agenda in full. The Justice Select Committee considered the draft Children & Families Bill in 'pre-legislative hearings', and invited Fathers4Justice to submit its evidence to support its agenda. The group chose to not do so, applying 'late' to give oral evidence, and on issues outside the remit of the Committee. At point 144, the Select Committee's report noted "The organisation Fathers 4 Justice contacted us in the late stages of our inquiry and asked for an invitation to provide oral evidence. They had not responded to our original Call for Evidence nor to the Government's Co-operative Parenting Consultation. We offered them the opportunity to provide written evidence on matters within our terms of reference for the inquiry, but they declined. We have not, therefore, had the benefit of their views". This meant the group's position on shared parenting was not reflected in the draft Bill, yet the group criticised the Bill nonetheless.  . The group later also refused offers from MPs sitting on the Bill Committee to table amendments on behalf of the group, meaning the group missed the chance of amending the Bill to better reflect its objectives
Members of the group have been accused of conducting intimidating attacks in order to upset court staff, family lawyers and Members of Parliament. During protests outside CAFCASS offices, individual case workers were identified by name in a similar style to animal rights protesters. One office was invaded by F4J members, who detained an unnamed employee. No criminal proceedings are known to have resulted.
Fathers 4 Justice's main impact remains upon media coverage and legal treatment of fathers' rights issues in the UK. The use of high-profile and disruptive stunts has garnered significant UK media coverage.
The political aims of the group are as yet unachieved, although the group has been accused of missing the opportunity to improve legislation when it refused to table amendments to the Children and Families Bill in 2013. One of its central aims – the removal of secrecy surrounding family courts – is the subject of active political debate. In 2006, the Court of Appeal set a precedent allowing adults to discuss secret cases after they had finished. This resulted in a number of high-profile scandals, chiefly concerning adoption. In February 2009, Justice Minister Jack Straw announced plans to reverse this ruling. In a landmark ruling in September 2013 Sir James Munby, President of the Family Division of the High Court, affirmed the need for previously 'secret' courts to be exposed to public scrutiny, with an order that permitted a family whose children had been removed to speak publicly about their treatment by child safety officials. 
A significant, unintended result of the F4J campaign has been the exposure of flaws in security at high-profile British institutions, resulting in security enquiries or reviews at Buckingham Palace and the House of Commons.
- Child custody
- Fathers' rights movement in the UK
- Parental alienation
- Parental alienation syndrome
- Pressure groups in the United Kingdom
- Shared parenting
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