How father of two became a persistent protester

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The Independent Online

A comic-book superhero perched in a dangerous location brandishing a banner has become an increasingly common sight in recent months.

A comic-book superhero perched in a dangerous location brandishing a banner has become an increasingly common sight in recent months.

From Bristol's Clifton Suspension Bridge to London's Tower Bridge, numerous landmarks have been targeted by the costume-clad campaigners of Fathers 4 Justice.

For Jason Hatch, the Batman-clad father behind yesterday's protest at Buckingham Palace, it is not the first time he has been involved in a high-profile stunt. Mr Hatch, 32, has been involved in a string of events, from scaling cathedrals to chaining the doors of court houses, as part of his dedicated programme of protest.

His involvement in the campaign began three years ago when Mr Hatch, a builder and decorator, returned to his Cheltenham home after a job in London to find his wife had moved out with their two children. While a court granted him two hours access to his five-year-old daughter and six-year-old son every three weeks, he claims he has only been allowed to see them on three occasions in the past three years.

It is this scenario that has transformed him into the increasingly prolific national co-ordinator for Fathers 4 Justice.

Like many fathers taking part in these demonstrations and stunts, Mr Hatch believes their tactics are the last resort in a fruitless struggle against the legal system. Describing his position earlier this year, Mr Hatch, who now lives with a new partner and their six-month-old daughter: "My life is on hold until I can see my children properly. A lot of fathers call it a living bereavement."

In February, he was one of four men who caused traffic chaos after scaling Bristol's Clifton Suspension Bridge, where they remained for one-and-a-half days. David Pyke, 48, from Cheltenham, who was dressed for yesterday's stunt as Robin, was also present during the climbing of the bridge.

The four men are due to appear at Bristol Crown Court accused of offences under section five of the Public Order Act alleging that they caused harassment, alarm or distress.

In May, Mr Hatch helped organise a demonstration in which two other members climbed to the third-floor window of Cardiff Civil Justice Centre dressed as Batman and Robin. In June, he reportedly locked the doors of Gloucester County Court with purple chains as a symbolic Father's Day gesture.

The next month, Mr Hatch scaled York Minster dressed as a cardinal in protest at the church's lack of support. Only last month, he was arrested after a day-long rooftop protest at Gloucester County Court, while a week later he staged a further protest on the roof of Birmingham's County Court.

The organisation has long campaigned to highlight what they believe has been a "steady erosion" of the rights of fathers. The organisation believes that 40 per cent of fathers lose contact with their children within two years of a court settlement.

But on the other side of the spectrum, far from the headline-grabbing stunts, are the mothers. Few people have heard their stories. Critics of the group, including domestic-violence and women's groups, have emphasised the difficulties women often endure in pursuing a divorce and highlighted the mutual conflicts that afflict both parents fighting for custody.

While the context of custody is emotive for both parents, it is the fathers who appear to be manifesting their difficulties in the more radical and physical way. And as they perceive themselves as having little to lose, it is unlikely that the superhero protests are going to come to an end in the near future.

SUPER-PROTESTS

* On Saturday, 11 September, the London Eye was brought to a standstill after it was scaled by another member of the group, David Chick, dressed as Spider-Man

* The group also targeted the leadership of the Church of England when they staged a demonstration at the General Synod at York Minster in July, with a rooftop protest

* On 19 May, Fathers 4 Justice hurled condoms filled with purple flour at the Prime Minister in the House of Commons, triggering a security alert

* David Chick staged a six-day crane-top vigil at London's Tower Bridge in November last year in protest at being denied access to his daughter.

* Two other members, Jolly Stanesby and Eddie Goreckwi, dressed as Batman and Robin, held a rooftop protest at the Royal Courts of Justice in central London in October 2003