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Fathers' group uses media stunts to put its message across

Independent 20 May 2004 p8

by Maxine Frith - Social Affairs Correspondent

RON DAVIES, who launched the flour-filled missile across the Commons, appears to be a typical Fathers4 Justice member.

Mr Davies, from Worthing, Sussex, claims to have been denied access to his children after his split from their mother. He made his case public in January, when he called a live phone-in Tony Blair was hosting on LBC Radio. "I'm one case in many thousands of fathers desperately trying to see their kids," Mr Davies told the radio show.

"I think there should be a presumption to contact [for fathers and children]... so we wouldn't find ourselves in this position and we wouldn't have our own wealth stripped from us by repeatedly going to solicitors and the courts to get a few hours a week to see our children."

Mr Blair replied: "I know this is a very live and important issue for many fathers. I take the point that you're making, which is that the courts should approach this with a presumption that there should be equal access unless there is a reason not to do so."

The Prime Minister said he would write to Mr Davies about the issue. He did, but the group claimed yesterday he had "reneged on his promise" to look at the issue, and this had prompted yesterday's action in the House.

Fathers4Justice, which claims the entire legal system is skewed in favour of mothers, is headed by a marketing consultant and is fond of high-profile stunts. It started with a march through London of 100 fathers, dressed as Santa Claus, in December 2002.

The stunt was picked up by the media, and Fathers4 Justice quickly realised it could raise its profile with clever gimmicks and guerrilla-style tactics.

The group's head, Matthew O'Connor, 36, went on to stage a series of stunts, including dressing embittered men in superhero suits and sending them up high structures.

Alain Williams, another founding member, said: "Because Matt had a marketing background, he understood how to get a message across. That has been invaluable. Eighteen months ago, most people probably weren't aware there were fathers in this situation, but we have changed that and made it into a national debate.

"We had all been going to meetings of things like Families Need Fathers, which has been around for 30 years and does things 'the proper way' - writing to MPs, going through the courts, abiding by the rules. But they had got nowhere. So we started Fathers4Justice with the aim of taking a very different approach."

Mr O'Connor said: "Our campaign has always had a humorous vein, partly to offset the image of the belligerent dad... that permeates what you read about divorced fathers. But also the costume reflects the fact that every father is a superhero to his children."

Last October, David Chick caused six days of traffic chaos in central London when, dressed as Spiderman, he climbed a crane by Tower Bridge to stage a protest backed by Fathers-justice. A jury last week cleared him of causing a public nuisance. At least a dozen more men are facing similar trials.

Meanwhile, the Government is planning to introduce tougher rules to ensure mothers comply with access orders.

Last updated - 25 May 2004

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