Militant fathers' group to step up road and rail disruption

Fathers 4 Justice intensifies campaign as ministers seek new ways to enforce court orders
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The Independent Online

The militant group campaigning for guaranteed rights for estranged fathers to see their children is drawing up plans this weekend to further disrupt road and rail travel.

Fathers 4 Justice is holding a summit meeting in the Midlands after another round of demonstrations caused traffic disruption in London, Bristol and Newcastle last week, resulting in eight arrests and police raids on the homes of those involved.

However, instead of backing off, the organisation has upped the stakes. "We are at war now, and that war will continue until such time as the Government starts taking the crisis in family law seriously," said Matt O'Connor, the organisation's founder and spokesman. "The gloves are off. There is a difficult time ahead, but we are prepared for it."

The group's 33 "area co-ordinators" will meet with Fathers 4 Justice leaders, including Mr O'Connor, at a hotel near Shrewsbury today and tomorrow to plan an intensification of their actions. Fearful that police are on the verge of arresting the organisation's central figures, co-ordinators will also be given detailed instructions of a "Plan B", to disrupt transport. The plan is believed to involve the disruption of almost every major motorway in Britain if their leaders are arrested.

Fathers 4 Justice maintains that thousands of British fathers are being wrongly, or even illegally, denied access to their children. They have vowed to continue their acts of "civil disobedience" until there are changes to the law. "It is the Government's response, or rather lack of it, that is causing this situation," Mr O'Connor said.

Over recent months, the group has attracted increasing media interest, as dozens of demonstrators, usually dressed as comic-book superheroes, have scaled cranes, bridges and courthouses around the country to get their message across. The most high-profile of these is David "Spider-Man" Chick, whose vigil on a crane over Tower Bridge last November brought traffic chaos to the area for six days, costing about £5m a day in policing and losses to industry.

On Monday, five members of the group were arrested after climbing bridges and gantries over four of London's main traffic arteries, causing the police to cordon them off during morning rush hour. Three others were detained in Bristol after demonstrating on the Clifton Suspension Bridge. Four escaped unpunished after a similar protest on Newcastle's Tyne Bridge.

Fathers 4 Justice claims to have more than 5,000 members, and to have received another 2,500 membership inquiries since Christmas. But with 12 people facing trial in the next few months, Mr O'Connor said there were "parts of the group straining at the leash. If the leadership is taken away, it could result in chaos."