Fathers4Justice vows to step up attacks on the nation's artworks

Campaign group's founder says its actions will become more extreme as it protests against restricted access to children

The man behind the pressure group Fathers4Justice has warned that there will be more attacks on valuable works of art. Matt O'Connor, the organisation's founder, said he would "destroy 10,000 Hay Wains" for the cause of access to children and predicted that the group's stunts would get more extreme and "people will go to prison this year".

One of the group's protesters, Paul Manning, was charged with criminal damage last week after gluing a photo of his child to John Constable's masterpiece The Hay Wain. His stunt followed Tim Harries spray painting "help" over a portrait of the Queen in Westminster Abbey last month.

Mr O'Connor said: "I'd destroy 10,000 Hay Wains if it meant I could protect my children. If we think a painting is worth more than a child's life then something is wrong. People will go to prison this year. We've got two trials and there'll be more direct action imminently."

He suggested that future actions will continue to involve defacing art. When asked if their protests would take place during daytime, he said: "Well, most of the galleries are shut by seven." In the past month the group, which campaigns for changes to family law so that divorced fathers get better access to their children, has returned to the guerrilla tactics it first became famous for. Founded by Mr O'Connor in 2002, it was notorious for protesters dressed as superheroes.

For the past five years, they have been more conciliatory, talking to two successive governments in an attempt to change family courts policy. But Mr O'Connor says they have run out of patience. "We tried five years of talk. It's had to change. At some point you have to take action. We had 10 promises from the Conservatives before the last election and they've broken them. The Children and Families Bill going through now is a sham." Now, he says, the coalition will not talk to them at all. "The Government will talk to the Taliban, but they won't talk to us. Al‑Qa'ida must say 'things are bad for us, but Fathers4Justice, they've really got it bad'."

Their new policy is not to engage with politicians or the media at all – a point somewhat undermined by Mr O'Connor's lengthy conversation with The Independent on Sunday. "We're trying to let the actions speak for themselves," he said, before talking for another 20 minutes. He points out – with some justification – that their stunts are the only time the press pays attention. "Unless someone is hanging off a bridge or doing something dramatic to a painting, that's the only time we get coverage. It's pitiful, but that's the way it is."

In increasingly overblown statements about his cause, Mr O'Connor compared himself to Nelson Mandela. "There's an old man in South Africa who was convicted as a terrorist," he said, later adding: "I find the moral courage of Steve Biko and Nelson Mandela inspiring. You have to have moral courage, and if the police smash my door down and take me away, then so be it."

The group says it is paying homage to the suffragettes in its latest round of art-defacing protests, a tactic used by votes-for-women campaigners. "We're copying the suffragettes and staging those kinds of protests," Mr O'Connor said. "Our guidelines are restricted to non-violent action in the spirit of the suffragettes. We'll make sure no one is hurt."

Mr O'Connor, 45, set up the group following a custody battle to see his two sons. His own situation has long since been resolved and it seemed until recently he had mellowed – happily remarried with access to his kids and spending more time on his luxury ice-cream brand, the Icecreamists.

His increasingly incendiary tactics have recently come back to bite him. His Twitter account – and the charity's – was shut down by the social network after complaints from Caroline Nokes, his local MP. "Caroline Nokes is trying to allege we've held a campaign of harassment, which isn't true. I believe politicians should not be able to break promises with impunity."

Ms Nokes's office says the group's harassment has been non-stop and included inciting people to turn up at her house late at night. She said: "They ignored the warnings and carried on bullying, harassing and sending tweets indicating they were 'looking' for me at my home address at 10.30 at night."

But Mr O'Connor is indignant. "Have you seen the stuff on Twitter that's not taken down? Even Nick Griffin is on Twitter."

He is unconcerned about being unpopular for damaging much-loved artworks. "We're already more unpopular than the Taliban so what have we got to lose? I think we have a duty to protest: the issue of fatherlessness is a national emergency."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Parts Advisor

£16500 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the leading Mercedes-Ben...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer

£27500 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Telemarketers / Sales - Home Based - OTE £23,500

£19500 - £23500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Experienced B2B Telemarketer wa...

Recruitment Genius: Showroom Assistant

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This global company are looking for two Showro...

Day In a Page

Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

Art attack

Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
10 best wedding gift ideas

It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

Paul Scholes column

With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

How Stephen Mangan got his range

Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor