UNTIL now, its
best-known representative was famed for spending six days up a crane dressed
as Spiderman in a one-man protest over fathers' rights.
David Chick's 150ft vigil near Tower Bridge in
London triggered traffic chaos in the city and cost businesses an estimated
The 37-year-old former window cleaner, who said he
staged the demonstration to protest at being refused access to his
four-year-old daughter, was cleared last week of causing a public nuisance.
He told a jury that despite a court order allowing
him to visit his daughter for two hours every week, her mother was less than
willing and eventually refused access.
His story is typical of many
members of Fathers-4-Justice (F4J), the pressure group launched in December
2002 to campaign for a child's right to see both parents and grandparents.
However, its cause was given unprecedented coverage
yesterday, when Ron Davies, a 44-year-old father of two, from Worthing,
Sussex, threw a condom full of flour from an area of the House of Commons
gallery as Tony Blair was speaking during his weekly half-hour
The design engineer, whose children are aged seven
and 13, was arrested immediately along with another man, Guy Harrison, 36,
from Steyning, West Sussex.
The action was supported by F4J, which claimed
responsibility for the attack, but was questioned by family law experts.
Although the majority of the pressure group's 7000
members are male, mothers, grandmothers, and aunts are part of a wide
cross-section of people who support its cause.
Bob Geldof, the rock star, who
in his own fight for custody of his children said in June 2002: "When the
law promotes injustice, it will fail," is among those who have lent support
to the group.
Matt O'Connor, who founded FJ4, said yesterday's
protest was held in the run-up to Father's Day to highlight the failure of
MPs to help fathers in their fight to gain access to children through the
He said fathers had been battling a steady erosion
of their rights for 30 years, and since its inception, FJ4's meetings with
the government had been fruitless.
Mr O'Connor believes the group already had achieved
considerable success in its first aim of raising awareness of a problem that
had gone unnoticed and unreported.
However, FJ4's second aim – to secure an overhaul
of family law within two years – may prove more difficult. Earlier this
year, the group said it was planning an escalation of activity as part of a
national campaign of disruption.
staged a demonstration on the roof of a court building in Devon on Tuesday.
There have also been demonstrations on a crane in Manchester, on the Clifton
suspension bridge in Bristol, and on gantries above key roads in London.
The group admitted
pro-testers are running the risk of imprisonment but said its tactics were a
last resort after its frustrated members had exhausted every other avenue. Paul Watson, originally from Glasgow, but now a
sports centre manager in Sunderland and one of FJ4's founding members, said
yesterday: "I support today's action in the Houses of Parliament 100%. The
two fathers involved literally put their lives on the line for their
children because there are armed policemen in that chamber.
"The action has been a
resounding success. No-one was hurt. It has got our message across.
Everyone, not only in Britain, but across the world, is looking at what is
happening to children in Britain now. They weren't doing that the day
before. Maybe now Tony Blair will stop paying lip service to our cause."
Andrew Gibb, head of the
family law section at Balfour Manson solicitors in Edinburgh, and a past
president of the Law Society of Scotland, said yesterday: "Fathers do have
justifiable grievances about the way the law treats them when they are
unmarried. I don't believe the Scottish Executive's current proposals to
give fathers named on birth certificates certain rights goes far enough.
"However, the sort of
behaviour we saw in the House of Commons today will do their cause no good
Lynne Dibiaiso, former chairman of the Family Law
Association in Scotland, agreed. She said: "Whatever the cause and
regardless of its values, I don't think actions such as those witnessed in
the House of Commons today would help it particularly in the climate of
security issues in the UK at present."
"Fathers-4-Justice say that
MPs are fully aware that every day 100 children lose contact with their
fathers in the family courts and that parliament has failed children, failed
fathers and failed families." The organisation added that the stunt was "the
first in a series of planned protests" in the run-up to its main Father's
Day demonstration on June 18.