The couple behind the pressure group Fathers4Justice who claimed a former lobbyist was harassing them have had an application for an injunction against him dismissed due to “a total absence of evidence”.
The details of a long-running feud between F4J founder Matt O'Connor, his wife Nadine O'Connor, the former lobbyist Adrian Yalland and his friend, the Tory MP Caroline Nokes, were published in The Independent today.
While the O'Connors brought the harassment claim, Mr Yalland and Mrs Nokes say it is they who have been targeted by the couple and their supporters. They received death threats from F4J supporters and sources believe Mrs Nokes was put under surveillance by the organisation.
The case was heard by Justice Nigel Gerald in the Central London County Court at the Royal Courts of Justice. The hearing was an attempt to get an injunction against Mr Yalland ahead of a case which has yet to be heard accusing him of harassment, injury, breach of privacy and trespass that also names Mrs Nokes as aiding him in this by giving him a lift to their home town.
The O'Connor's justification for an injunction centred on an incident on 20 February when a scuffle occurred in the driveway of the their home between Mr Yalland, Mr O'Connor and the O'Connors' landlord.
The judge described the build-up to the altercation, when Mr Yalland is understood to have put a letter relating to a libel case against the couple through a window and then walked backwards taking pictures of it. The judge questioned why Mr Yalland needed to go to the property, commenting “you can see why people would find that annoying”.
The O'Connors claim Mr Yalland climbed a fence, was trespassing on their land and was violent towards Mr O'Connor and his landlord in front of their eight-year-old son. They claim their son was traumatised by this.
Mrs O'Connor told the court: “This is not about politics, this is not about publicity. I’m a mother of two children and I’m here today because I want my children protected.”
She told the court she would be moving house in 48 hours so that the family could be safer.
The judge said that, assuming her account of the incident was true, “it could, one imagines, have caused alarm fear or distress” but that “the question is whether there is any other conduct which could possibly feed into a broad description of harassment,” and concluded “the answer to that question is an emphatic no”.
Henry Hendron, representing Mr Yalland, said of the hearing: “It is Mr Yalland’s assertion that this is, from the outset, an abuse in itself”
The judge asked why, “if the incident on the 20 February was so important, so singular, so awful”, the O'Connors had waited until October to come to court.
Mrs O'Connor said she had waited because she was hoping Hampshire Police would take further action against Mr Yalland and described calling the force every week to pursue it. The judge cautioned wryly “Be careful, that could be harassment”.
He also criticised the O'Connors for making “a series of generalised assertions” against Yalland that were “intended to point the finger at him but do not”.
In Mrs O'Connor's witness statement, she described the family receiving anonymous hatemail and having a car window smashed but the judge said she had produced no evidence that this had anything to do with Mr Yalland. He said this, alongside insinuations about his mental health, seemed intended to “disingenuously invite the court to believe that he was behind” these actions.
He said their witness statements were full of passages “intending to show [Yalland] in a bad light” to prejudice the court's view in favour of theirs. Giving examples, he said: “The allegation is that he's highly misogynistic, has particular views on abortion and women's rights, which in a country which still has freedom of speech he's entitled to do. There also allegations seeking to suggest that he's mentally unstable.”
Justice Gerald said: “There's no sufficient evidence before me to support a finding that there's even an arguable case for a claim for harassment.”
Mr Yalland had said the case was only ever intended as a vexatious publicity stunt. Commenting on the O'Connors courting of publicity, the judge said: “It's quite obvious in this case that there's an element of publicity, whether or not that's been deliberately generated is irrelevant, though one suspects that it is.”
Concluding the case, Justice Gerald said: “There's a total absence of evidence and it would be quite wrong for any form of injunction to be granted.”
He ordered the O'Connors to pay £500 of Mr Yalland's legal costs, an amount which they appealed.Reuse content