'Spider-man' causes chaos in fathers' rights stunt

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The Independent Online

To tourists, the man in a Spider-man costume perched precariously on the cabin of a 120-foot Thameside crane yesterday was most probably a prankster or a showman emulating David Blaine.

But unlike the American illusionist, who carried out his stunt in a glass box only metres away from the same crane on Tower Bridge, David Chick's actions are triggered by personal trauma.

He says he is staging a two-week protest to communicate his anger at what he feels is the deeply unjust legislation undermining fathers' rights over their children.

To those caught in the resultant traffic gridlock, or the officers supervising the cordoned-off area around one of London's busiest junctions, it is an act of gross and expensive selfishness.

Mr Chick, 36, from Burgess Hill, West Sussex, says that nine months before he climbed up the crane at 5am last Friday in the pouring rain, he was like any doting father. Whenever he was not working as a window cleaner, which he continued to do despite his fear of heights, he would spend most of his spare time with his baby daughter, Lauryn, even after an acrimonious split with his partner two years earlier, when Lauryn was 10 months old.

During access time with Lauryn, aged three, who he calls his "little princess", he would buy her anything she wanted, read to her and watch videos of her favourite superhero, Spider-man.

But in February, that relationship came to an end when, he claims, he was denied access despite a court order allowing him the right to see the child.

Last Friday, he decided to do something about it. He crammed two rucksacks with sausages, cakes and blankets and made the most public of stands on top of the crane with the certain prospect of arrest when he returns to ground next week. He says he hopes that Lauryn sees him on television and comes to visit him at Tower Bridge.

After being denied access to Lauren, Mr Chick, who is a member of Fathers 4 Justice, a fathers' pressure group, fell into a deep depression caused by despair at the legal system. He confesses he was suicidal and abandoned his job as a window cleaner. Unemployed and living on his own, he had hit the darkest times when he contemplated taking his own life to escape the acute sense of pain and injustice he felt.

Two weeks ago, he was at the Fathers 4 Justice protest outside the Royal Courts of Justice when two men dressed as Batman and Robin climbed the roof of the building on the Strand. Mr Chick was at the gathering wearing a Tony Blair mask in protest.

This is not the first time he has resorted to desperate measures to gain contact with his daughter.

In June, he carried out a 48-hour protest on top of the crane. He had intended to stay there for seven days but gave in to the elements after two days of severe sunburn. At the time, he said his protest was "for my daughter and all the other fathers betrayed by the legal system".

Yesterday, he showed more commitment to staying the full two weeks. Speaking from a walkie-talkie, he said: "I have just switched off up here. I am doing this for my daughter and my hope is that she will see me on TV and someone will turn to her and say 'that's your father'. I want her to be proud of me."

Eddie Garecki, 46, a close friend who dressed up as Batman at the Royal Courts of Justice, said he shared an emotional moment with him minutes before he began scaling the crane in treacherously wet weather on Friday morning.

"It was pelting down with rain and it was really slippery. David and I have shared a few tears in the past and he was very emotional just as he went up. I watched him from my vehicle and I just don't know how he found the strength to go up there. He had to get through the building site and use a scaffold pole to get up to the main structure of the crane, which was completely wet.

"As I watched him do it, a police car came up to us and I thought it was over for David but instead they just asked us to move on," he said.

Twenty-four police officers are supervising the scene including a "negotiator" who was yesterday liaising with Mr Chick, who found himself in total isolation after his walkie talkie and mobile batteries went flat.

A police spokeswoman said Mr Chick would be arrested for being a public nuisance and apologised for the inconvenience his stunt had caused.

Bystanders were divided in their loyalties. Some thought it a worthy cause but ultimately the misguided act of a desperate father resorting to dangerous methods of protest.

Carly Stephens, 14, an American tourist whose sightseeing bus made a detour to accommodate the closure of the bridge, said she felt it was "a good point but he is expressing it in the wrong way". She added: "If his wife was difficult before, I'm really not sure that she's trust him now."


By Tim Reynolds

Fathers 4 Justice is a militant men's group that revels in high profile stunts in its campaign for "truth, justice and equality" in family courts.

It has won the support of Bob Geldof in its drive against what it claims is institutional bias in the courts against divorced men.

Recent campaigns have included driving a tank through London and a rooftop protest on the Royal Courts of Justice by two members of the group dressed as Batman and Robin.

It is also threatening civil disobedience in the courts, including sit-ins. Organisers say the aim is to "make the injustice visible" as they fight for equal rights for fathers.

Michael Cox, the group's legal adviser, said: "Fathers are reduced to pleading with the mother to see their children."

Geldof is expected to meet constitutional affairs minister Lord Filkin to help raise the profile of fathers' rights.

The Government is now considering giving divorced men far greater access to their children.