Fathers4Justice accused of plot to black out televisions

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The Independent Online

Now the pressure group Fathers4Justice has been accused of mounting a sinister plot to black out British television screens.

The allegations, made the by the ITV programme Tonight, suggest that the group was set to abandon its high profile campaign of non-violent direct action. The team of reporters working undercover for the programme secretly filmed members of the organisation discussing ways of disrupting broadcast signals to the UK's major channels.

One reporter claimed that a leading figure within the protest movement justified the plan as a way of letting the rest of the country know how they felt.

"Let's blank out the country out of TV altogether. Let's blank it all out like we've been blanked out of our children's lives," he said.

The alleged action follows earlier stunts by the group including throwing purple flour at Tony Blair in the House of Commons and handcuffing a minister to one of their members.

They have also climbed on ledges of Buckingham Palace and clambered up York Minster, Tower Bridge and the London Eye to capture headlines while dressed as fictional superheroes.

The events alarmed the security services, embarrassed the Government and raised debate over the right of a father to have access to his children.

A spokesman for the ITV1 programme said it had decided to investigate the group after meeting a prominent Fathers4Justice activist, who cannot be named for legal reasons.

Weeks later, the same activist was secretly filmed telling the Tonight reporter that the Fathers4Justice leader Matt O'Connor had asked him to organise the sabotage plot. The activist was later filmed discussing a reconnaissance mission he had carried out at a mast near Hereford to research how to disable transmitters.

One suggestion was to break into the compounds housing the transmitters in strategic areas such as Crystal Palace in London, open the junction boxes and throw in acid to melt the wiring. "The thing is to demonstrate power," Mr O'Connor was filmed telling his co-conspirators as he revealed his reasons for the sabotage.

"And to demonstrate power, one transmitter I'm just not fucking interested in. I said to [the activist who cannot be named for legal reasons] I'd do a minimum of four and probably six would be ideal ... I mean that's quite scary.

"Then you go, 'Fucking hell' these guys can knock out? Even better is finding a way of fucking intercepting television signals and interrupting broadcasts."

Over the 14-month period of the investigation, Mr O'Connor was secretly filmed revealing that he would assign some extremist actions, including sabotaging transmitters, to the leading hardliner Eddie "Goldtooth" Gorecki.

In the first part of of the investigation, shown last Monday, Mr Gorecki was filmed making racist and sexist remarks, boasting about beating up his ex-wife's boyfriend, threatening to kill her in order to force her to allow him access to his children, and bragging about vandalising F4J targets such as court and children's charity offices and a Liberal Democrat campaign bus at the Hartlepool by-election.

When it was challenged by the Tonight programme, Fathers4Justice said it "does not comment on operational activities for security reasons". It tried to explain the activities captured on film as part of a "campaign of disinformation aimed at confusing the authorities and identifying undercover journalists and police officers".

However, it told the programme that it intended to continue "non-violent direct action" against transport and communications.

Since the programme was made Mr O'Connor, 38, has admitted he regrets ever starting the campaign because of the effect it has had on his personal life.

"I could lose my day job in designer marketing because I've been warned I could be arrested for conspiracy to cause a public nuisance," he said, adding that in the past three years he had received several death threats.

"I suppose one shouldn't be surprised by the reaction of the establishment given some of the things that we've done, such as flour bombing the Prime Minister. I guess the establishment was bound to fight back."

The group was set up in 2002 by Mr O'Connor, a marketing consultant, when he became frustrated with the lack of access to his children after the breakdown of his marriage. He and a handful of men banded together after meeting through support groups and becoming disillusioned with their failure to change what they claim are fundamental inequalities in the family court system.

They went on to stage the now familiar stunts involving characters in superhero outfits, although their ambitions have swelled from occupying the roof of a church to a member handcuffing himself to Margaret Hodge, the children's minister, last November. It took police 20 minutes to free the minister. In June, F4J expelled 30 militant infiltrators. It said only two people in the Tonight programme were members. The organisation yesterday accused the film makers of distorting the truth and said it would complain to ITV and to the broadcasting watchdog Ofcom about the programme's accuracy, balance and impartiality.

'Dads' Army: Fathers4-Justice', ITV1, 8pm tonight.