London, England–Fatherhood activists Jolly Stainesby and Mark Harris launched a highly-publicized protest on the roof of Labor deputy leader Harriet Harman’s house. Harman is Secretary of State for Equalities and Minister for Women and has helped block family law reform. According to the BBC:
A fathers’ rights campaigner is maintaining his rooftop protest at the London home of Labour deputy leader Harriet Harman.
Jolly Stainesby, of south Devon, spent the night under a tarpaulin, observed by the occupants of three police cars.
Mr Stainesby began the protest at the minister’s house in Herne Hill, south London, on Sunday with Mark Harris – who later came down and was arrested.
Ms Harman has decided to leave her home until the protest ended.
Mr Stainesby said the rooftop protest could go on for some time.
Speaking earlier, he said: “I’m not coming down until they free my mate Mark. He is still being held.”
Mr Harris was held on suspicion of criminal damage, causing a public nuisance and other offences.
The campaigners, who are dressed as mythical superheroes “Captain Conception” and “Cash Gordon”, had said they intended to remain at the property until the former minister of justice read Mr Harris’s book, Family Court Hell.
They also unfurled a banner reading: “A father is for life, not just conception”.
Ms Harman, who is also Secretary of State for Equalities and Minister for Women, said the men had not requested a meeting.
Fathers 4 Justice founder Matt O’Connor said the government had “refused all dialogue with F4J for the past two years” and the group would now resume “a full-scale campaign of direct action against the government, its ministers and the judiciary”.
A Ministry of Justice spokesman said the government had carried out a public consultation on improving the openness of family courts.
He added: “This is an important and complex area of policy about which people have strong views. We must ensure we get it right.”
I applaud this action, though not without a few misgivings, which I detail below. I’m glad to see F4J UK back in action.
To briefly recap, the group is the brainchild of Matt O’Connor, and it began a series of daring, highly publicized protests atop cranes, bridges, and government buildings in 2003. The group’s first well-known protest was David Chick’s spectacular six day, one man protest atop a 150 foot high crane near the Tower Bridge in London. The protest snarled traffic for miles and reportedly cost businesses an estimated £50 million. Chick protested because he was unlawfully cut off from his toddler daughter. He had been to court 25 times and spent the equivalent of $30,000 in unsuccessful attempts to get English courts to enforce his visitation rights.
The image of a man so desperate that he would risk his life and risk prison to be with the little girl he loves moved millions. Polls showed that Chick was very popular, and he was acquitted by an English jury, some of whom were reportedly moved to tears by his testimony. To learn more, see his website http://spidermandad.com/.
Stainesby, one of this new protest’s leaders, has done numerous high-profile actions. Ironically, he is a registered child care provider and is thus allowed to care for any child in England except his 10-year-old daughter, with whom he is allowed little contact.
The group’s protests have been scrupulously peaceful. The protesters dressed up in superhero costumes in order to appear less threatening, to inject some humor into their protests, and, as F4J says, because little children often see their dads as superheroes. The group drew enormous and unprecedented publicity to the widespread problem of fathers being pushed out of their children’s lives after divorce or separation.
The Up and Down History of F4J
In recent years the group has struggled, for a few reasons:
1) They were unable to convert the media attention they skillfully cultivated into solid family law reform.
2) They were torn by faction fighting.
3) They were widely slandered in 2006 over an imaginary kidnapping plot. At the time I wrote:
“Plot to kidnap Blair’s son smashed.” “UK police foil plot to kidnap Blair’s son.” “Scotland Yard uncovers plot to kidnap Blair’s son.”
These recent headlines and hundreds like them illustrate Mark Twain’s assertion that “a lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is still putting on its shoes.” Major media worldwide–including CNN, the Associated Press, the BBC, Fox News, Reuters, and hundreds of newspapers–have reported that extremists tied to the British fathers’ rights group Fathers 4 Justice planned to kidnap British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s five-year-old son Leo. Yet subsequent reports reveal that the sensationalized kidnapping “plot” was apparently nothing more than drunken pub chattering among a couple fools and loudmouths who evidently didn’t realize they were being monitored. Not a single arrest has been made.
Nevertheless, this non-incident is and will for many years be used to portray the fathers’ movement as violent extremists. It is certainly true that fathers’ groups do attract a lunatic fringe. It is also true that there are divorced dads within the movement who…well, let’s just say it’s not hard to see why they’re divorced. But most fathers’ activists are decent, loving dads who can’t quite believe that the family law system so readily allowed them to be driven out of the lives of the children who love them and need them.
To learn more, see Something smells very fishy about the ‘Leo kidnap plot’ (The Daily Telegraph, 1/20/06).
As I’ve noted before, for a variety of reasons I don’t like it when protesters target judges’ homes or their ex-wives’ homes, and it isn’t generally done. For one, these confrontations can turn violent, as almost happened when Stainesby protested on a judge’s roof previously and the judge pulled out a shotgun and pointed it at him. Two, it drags in the target’s family and children. Three, it gives the target of the protest the opportunity to go into a big “I’m so frightened of these awful men” act, which generally plays well in the press. This is particularly true when the judge or official targeted is a woman, as in this case.
Still, I think we have to acknowledge that there’s a difference between doing this kind of thing in the United States–a very violent society–and in England. From what I understand, this type of thing is seen as far less threatening there than it would be here. (Apparently when the judge pointed the shotgun at Stainesby he called F4J leader Matt O’Connor, who helpfully told him, “Make sure you get a picture of him pointing the gun at you.”)
I wouldn’t recommend this type of protest in the US, but I’ll defer to the UK F4J’s judgment about doing it there.
I don’t know if after this protest F4J will be able to overcome some of the problems which have plagued them, but I hope they do. I’ve been fortunate enough to have the opportunity to get to know O’Connor and Stainesby fairly well, and I respect them both.
To learn more about Fathers 4 Justice, click here and here. (Note: for some reason Stainesby’s name seems to be spelled differently each time he does a protest. I suggest readers also look for “Stainesby.”)
Late Note: How to Support the Protesters
English activist Steve Bayliss just sent out the following:
Please write to the BBC — http://news.bbc.co.uk/newswatch/ukfs/hi/feedback/default.stm
We need people supporting Jolly on the ground at Harman’s house and calling Walworth Police Station where Mark has been held for 24 hours now!!!
Walworth Police Station
323 Borough High Street,
SE1 1JR View Map (launches a new window)
Telephone: 020 7378 1212
2nd Telephone: Textphone Number for Hard of Hearing: 020 7232 6013
Service Availability: Open 24 hours a day
Transport: Trains: Elephant and Castle, Borough ; Bus route(s): 12, 35, 40,
45, 68, 148, 168, 171, 468