Friday, 29 October 2004

Protest held over fathers' rights - Blackwall tunnel

Protest held over fathers' rights

Protesters from a fathers' rights group have brought traffic to a near standstill on some of London's key roads. The men from Fathers 4 Justice (F4J) climbed onto gantries on the A13, A2, M4, and A40.

Roads were closed for a short period while police assessed the scene but they have since reopened.

The protests are part of a campaign of events by F4J to raise awareness of the plight of divorced fathers.

A spokesman for the group said that the protests were the beginning of a full scale campaign of civil disruption.

A Scotland Yard spokeswoman confirmed on Monday that the Metropolitan Police's public order branch was policing a "number of demonstrations" across the city.

She said police were alerted to a man on a gantry above the eastbound section of the A40 in White City at 0730 GMT, but traffic was flowing.

In another demonstration a man had climbed on the gantry above the westbound carriageway of the A13 near Prince Regents Lane.

And another man had climbed a gantry near Canning Town flyover.

At about 0812 GMT police were told about two men on the Blackwall Tunnel northbound entrance, southern approach. The entrance was later closed for safety reasons.

Scotland Yard said the two men were later arrested.

Police were also informed of another protest where a man had climbed on the gantry of the M4 elevated section eastbound into London.

There was no disruption to traffic in this protest.


A group campaigning for fathers' rights warned yesterday that a series of protests on bridges and gantries which caused widespread chaos was "just the start" of a national campaign of civil disruption involving roads, railways and the courts.
Activists from Fathers 4 Justice scaled bridges and gantries in London, Bristol and Newcastle-upon-Tyne yesterday, disrupting traffic.

Police closed the Clifton suspension bridge in Bristol when four protesters, dressed as Batman, Robin, Superman and Spider-Man, climbed up it at 5.30am.

The group has also announced it is to start a new campaign of direct action on Merseyside - sending protesters to lobby the homes of solicitors, barristers and judges.

In Bristol, Fathers 4 Justice's spokesman, Jeff Skinner, said: "All motorists have been denied access to the suspension bridge this morning, as all our members are denied access to their children."

The bridge was closed for safety reasons and motorists in the Clifton and Leigh Woods districts of the city were warned to expect long delays.

In south London, two men demonstrating on a gantry at the entrance of the Blackwall tunnel were arrested.

Scotland Yard said they had been brought down as it was feared they presented a danger to traffic.

One of the men was Jolly Stanesby, 35, a childminder from Devon, who last Friday ended a week-long protest on a gantry over the Tamar bridge near Plymouth.

Protests were also staged on bridges above the A13, A2, M4 and A40 in London.

The first activist climbed on to a gantry above the A40 at around 7.30am.

The organisation's founder, Matt O'Connor, said activists were planning a campaign of widespread civil disobedience.

"If you give a father no options, you leave him no choice," Mr O'Connor said at a press conference yesterday. "Fatherhood is under attack in a way inconceivable 30 years ago."

A spokesman for the force said: "Anyone is entitled to protest peacefully in this country. This was a peaceful protest."

Saturday, 23 October 2004

Family law conference

Fathers 4 Justice protestors have overpowered police and stormed a conference on family law, setting off smoke bombs and flares and forcing the evacuation of the building.

The fathers' rights group was hoping to get the chance to remonstrate with the children and families minister, Lord Filkin, outside the conference venue, which is next to the Regent's canal in north London.

The group's spokesman, Matt O'Connor, told that the minister could have found himself "in at the deep end".

Acting on a tip-off, the police stationed three divers and a dinghy in the canal as a precaution, and more than 30 policemen were brought in to guard the conference centre.

But the group's plan to confront Lord Filkin was thwarted by the fact that he had been reshuffled out of his family law role in September. His replacement, Baroness Ashton, addressed the conference before the protestors arrived.

The protest began at 11.30 when two men, one an able-bodied man in a wheelchair, had attempted to gain access to the conference run by the charity Children Law UK, after registering as members of a bogus organisation.

Their names were passed on to the Metropolitan police who identified them as members of the group Fathers 4 Justice, and they were turned away at the door.

The plan had been for the man in the wheelchair to "stage a miraculous recovery" in the conference hall and disrupt the meeting, said Mr O'Connor.

Fifteen policemen and police divers had been drafted in after the organisers got wind of the operation: but at lunchtime 15 protestors overpowered police on the door and set off flares in the foyer.

Fire alarms were set off, forcing the building, which is home to the National Council of Voluntary Organisations, to be evacuated.

Around 20 extra police were brought in and prevented the men from gaining access to the conference hall. Eight men were arrested.

The conference has now restarted and is due to be addressed by Dame Elizabeth Butler-Sloss, the head of the family division at the high court.

Mr O'Connor said: "We have had a protest outside the family law conference. Unfortunately our original plan was rumbled but we got 15 people inside and flares were set off after two policemen were overpowered.

"There are policemen in a dinghy on the canal. The conference has restarted but we want to make as much noise as possible."

He said the stunt was prompted by an interview with Lord Filkin published in the Guardian yesterday, in which the minister described as "wet" those fathers who did not persist in getting contact with their children after the first knockback.

"Well, we are beside a canal," said Mr O'Connor. "He could have been in at the deep end."

Glyn Farrow, the spokesman for the conference organisers, said: "Children Law UK appreciates the experience of fathers who have been unable to maintain contact with their children.