Earlier this year Londonist contacted the parenting pressure group Fathers 4 Justice to see if we could get an interview with them.
We wanted to talk to them because it seems that many of their 'stunts' take place in the capital and Londoners tend to have very divided opinions on the group's methods as well as their aims.
The following is an email conversation we had with Martin Cook, a 44-year-old Finance Director of a construction services company.
Can you tell us how you got involved in the Fathers 4 Justice group?
Like most people, I had heard plenty of tales of how the “winner takes all” approach to divorce tended to favour mothers. However, nothing had prepared me for what I encountered during my divorce in 2001. At every stage of the proceedings it was abundantly clear that, contrary to the government’s mantra, it was the mother’s interests that were paramount. The children’s interests came a very poor second and the interests of anyone on the father’s side of the family were totally irrelevant – and this even included any children living with the father.
To make matters worse this is, of course, all done in secret, with the threat of contempt of court proceedings against anyone who has the temerity to publicise the injustice they have suffered. If the general public had any real inkling of what was going on they simply would not tolerate it.
I was aware of the existence of other equal parenting groups, but they seemed to fall into two camps – some providing a victim support service (which, to be fair, they probably do a lot better than F4J) and others politely campaigning for changes in the law, whilst being equally politely ignored by those in a position to change it.
I was not particularly interested either in being a victim or in futile campaigning. I was more interested in making sure that those responsible for the current state of affairs are held accountable for their actions and that there is a fundamental change in the law by the time my children have children of their own; so when Matt O’Connor founded F4J in December 2002, he was sowing seeds on very fertile ground as far as I was concerned.
Can you sum up the Fathers4Justice 'philosophy' for us? Where did the 'superhero' idea originate?
F4J is an equal parenting group campaigning for a child’s right to see both parents and is committed to a twin-track strategy of ‘Publicity and Pressure’, combining non-violent direct action and civil disobedience with a coherent and compelling political message.
The superheroes campaign was devised by Matt O’Connor, who has a background in marketing and PR.
And do you think your 'protests' are acheiving their aim?
Despite the best endeavours of parenting groups over the past 30 years, there has been a continual erosion of a parent’s right to exercise their responsibilities towards the bringing up of their children. However, placing the spotlight on family law injustice through publicity, or as Gandhi said ‘making the injustice invisible’, has fired public debate and catapulted the problem of fatherlessness into the political agenda.
Do you ever worry that Londoners might start resenting you instead of siding with you?
The challenge is to keep finding new ways of shaming those responsible for the current state of affairs, whilst causing as little inconvenience to the general public as possible. This isn’t always as easy as it sounds. For example, as you may recall from the subsequent court case, the roads around Tower Bridge were not closed as a direct consequence of Spiderman’s protest (which, incidentally, was not an official F4J action) but because the authorities believed that maximising the level of disruption would result in a better prospect of conviction.
In any case, I am sure that all will be forgiven once we have succeeded in exposing the full horror of what is actually going in our family courts.
Can you give us any clues to any future protest plans you might have?
For obvious reasons, we tend to keep our plans to ourselves. However, I don’t think it is any secret that we will be targeting the Labour party in the run up to the election. By supporting the status quo they have put political expediency before the interests of our children. Most of the other major parties have shown at least some form of commitment to putting children’s interests first.
As people might only be aware of one element of what you do, can you give us an insight into what else F4J does?
We are continually involved in political lobbying of one kind or another and, whilst we are primarily a campaign group rather than a support group, we do whatever we can to help our members fight the system.
Some general London questions now: What would you say is the best place in London for a father and son/daughter outing?
It would have to be one of the big games at Highbury or a shopping expedition to the West End.
Ken Livingstone: Superhero or Evil Villain? (note: we asked these questions before the 'Nazi jibe' furore)
Well, he’s certainly no friend of F4J, but I would say more of a complete prat than an evil villain.
What have you always wanted to do/visit in London but never got round to?
I’d like to get to all of the major sporting venues for one of the big events - so far the only one I have managed to get to is Wembley for the Cup Final.
Three things that would improve our city?
Regenerating the poorer areas, sorting out the transport system and generally making sure that political correctness has much less influence in the decision-making processes.