Fathers campaigner regrets his crusade

THE LEADER of parents' rights group Fathers 4 Justice has spoken of his regret at embarking on the controversial crusade, claiming he had no idea it would come with such a hefty emotional price tag.

THE LEADER of parents' rights group Fathers 4 Justice has spoken of his regret at embarking on the controversial crusade, claiming he had no idea it would come with such a hefty emotional price tag.

Despite admitting the situation is getting out of hand, Matt O'Connor has vowed to finish what he started three years ago - but said he has been “vilified” by the public, and has even received personal death threats.

“If I knew then what I know now, I would not have started the group up, because the personal costs to me, both emotionally and financially, have been immense,” he said.

“Before I launched Fathers 4 Justice I had planned to buy a restaurant, and now there are times when I really wish I had done that instead.”

On Monday, television viewers saw the first of a two-part television documentary reporting behind the scenes of the campaign group.

Dad's Army: Inside Fathers 4 Justice - which is the result of a year-long undercover investigation -highlighted some of the extreme actions taken by desperate fathers trying to win justice in the family courts.

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But Mr O'Connor, from Sudbury, said he feels he is being held responsible for the actions of a group of vigilante fathers, who are using the Fathers 4 Justice name to make dangerous threats on people and property.

“We exist to act as a positive force of change, but there are all manner of groups calling themselves Fathers 4 Justice, who have nothing to do with us whatsoever,” he said.

“My reasons for founding the campaign are still very much there, but we are now three years on and people are getting desperate.

“These fathers are on the edge, and there are extreme measures that a lot of them will go to.

“I have had three or four death threats in the past three months, which is of great concern to me, both in terms of my own safety and that of my family.

“The trouble is that it is very easy for people to call themselves a member of something, and I feel as though I am being held responsible for the behaviour of everyone. I have been vilified by the public - it is as though people are using voodoo dolls to stick pins in me.”

Fathers 4 Justice, which has become one of the most high profile campaigns of recent years, was launched after Mr O'Connor went though a divorce and wanted to maintain contact with his two children.

Since then his crusade has become increasingly recognised for its achievements in creating awareness of the problems surrounding fatherless families.

Over the years, Fathers 4 Justice has hit the headlines with attention-grabbing stunts by campaigners such as storming the Big Brother house, causing traffic chaos by protesting on the busy M4, throwing eggs at Tony Blair, scaling St Paul's Cathedral, and famously dressing as Batman and Robin to hold a roof-top demonstration in Downing Street.

But in recent months some supposed Fathers 4 Justice members have taken campaigning to the next level, and have reportedly even threatened to firebomb an office belonging to Cafcass - a national organisation that looks after the interests of children in family proceedings.

Mr O'Connor, who in January this year was shortlisted for the Royal Society's Great Briton of the Year Award, said: “We are trying to do something good, but people are losing sight of the fundamental issue of children growing up without their fathers.

“I understand fully the anger and bitterness that drives people to think of such extremes, but this is not the way forward for our movement.

“The group has strict terms of membership which are firmly enforced, and those people who are not members should carefully consider the damaging impact such actions could have.

“I cannot stop the campaign now, it has gone too far, but all I can do is try and manage it the best that I can, and get the issue pushed through and finish this once and for all.”