Cambridge News on
BEST known for its trespassing superheroes and powder-bombing Tony Blair,
Fathers 4 Justice catapulted the issue of men's parental rights on to the front
But, according to
its founder, the group soon lost its way with some members caring
more about the limelight than the issue at its core.
Matt O'Connor, 38, says this summer marks a new,
more mature start for Fathers 4 Justice. He has expelled 30 of the
campaign group's 12,000 members, a cull he says was necessary if the
group was to survive and achieve its aim of transforming the law to
give fathers more rights to see their children.
Matt, from Cavendish, near Haverhill, said: "We
have almost had to purge the organisation like a forest fire and
cull the dead wood so we can see where we are going. We are not
about men in tights or superheroes, we are about trying to change
"There was a danger we were going to become a
parody of ourselves.
"At a local level F4J had lost its integrity. We
had people stealing money and people accused of sexism, racism and
"I felt like Dr Frankenstein, I had created this
monster. People became addicted to the publicity. F4J had become the
high-wire act of protest groups but we had no safety net. We had to
go from being boys to becoming men."
But the future is bright for F4J. While the
comic book heroes are taking a back seat, Matt is confident the
group will not stay out of the headlines.
It is planning to take a roadshow on a tour of
Britain from John o'Groats to Land's End, calling at cities,
including Cambridge, in between. The main purpose of the tour is to
highlight the link between young offenders and fatherless
Matt said: "Children growing up without fathers
turn to crime."
But he assures those who will miss the antics of
Batman and Spiderman the tour will not disappoint. He said: "It will
be very theatrical and spectacular in trademark style. It will be
the biggest thing we have ever done but it won't involve us
F4J will be visiting schools, colleges and
universities and is keen to get a mention in the Guinness Book of
Records with a record-breaking stunt.
More is planned but it is all top secret and no
doubt Matt will be drawing on his campaigning background - he used
to work for the Labour Party - to make sure the message hits
The campaign group is currently in talks with
CAFCASS (Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service) and
the Child Contact Bill being debated in the House of Lords is
largely down to F4J, according to Matt.
He said: "We have a more mature approach that
doesn't necessarily involve powder-bombing Tony Blair. That was
then, this is now.
"Everyone thinks we are packing up and going
home and I don't mind them thinking that. The police are expecting
us to pull a stunt at the G8 summit but I prefer to do things when
the police have got their trousers around their ankles."
Personally, Matt is much happier. He started F4J
after a messy divorce during which he feared he would lose contact
with his two children, Daniel, nine, and Alexander, seven. Now his
ex-wife is remarrying and he has settled down with a new partner,
Nadine Taylor, 34.
"I was in danger of losing my children. Now, my
kids come to stay with me and we have a fantastically close
relationship. I have had a difficult couple of years. I was consumed
by the cause. It was a kamikaze mission and sooner or later, I was
going to crash and burn," he admitted.
"I had to save myself and take time
His life story could make it on to the silver
screen. Harbour Pictures, the team behind the British smash hit
Calendar Girls, has bought the film rights to his tale.
He said: "There were a few offers on the table.
I wanted to work with a team I knew was good. It is very surreal. I
didn't realise my life was that interesting."
And he is writing a book about his
As for any potential F4J splinter groups formed
by dissatisfied or expelled members, Matt isn't worried.
He said: "Imitation is the greatest form of
flattery. There will only ever be one F4J. We run a military
campaign and we are here to do a job, go in, change the law and get
out again. No-one ever said it was a democratic