Tower Bridge protest
On October 31, 2003, David Chick, dressed as Spider-Man, climbed a crane near Tower Bridge in London to add his voice to the Fathers 4 Justice campaign for fathers' rights. He ended up staying at the top of the 100 feet crane for six days. The stunt resulted in unprecedented press coverage for the group and its campaign.
The police cleared the area and the disruption to the city's traffic was enormous, resulting in the suspension of the London congestion charge for a while. Chick finally climbed down from the crane of his own accord.
Chick is not formally a member of F4J, but his protests were closely identified with it in the media. F4J denied planning the action, although it did later approve it. A representative arrived at the scene, where a crowd built up, and the ensuing press and media coverage was considerable.
Traffic was prevented from crossing the bridge from the morning of the 31 October until November 4. Chick remained on the crane until the following evening. Upon descending, he was immediately arrested for causing a public nuisance.
Mayor of London Ken Livingstone condemned Chick's action as being irresponsible, for the disruption it caused in the capital. Livingstone said that Chick was "amply demonstrating why some men should not have access to their own children."
When Chick went before the Southwark Crown Court in May 2004, he was cleared of all charges. It emerged that Chick had repeatedly stressed during the stunt that the road closures effected by police, which cost £5m per day in lost business and caused ten-mile tailbacks, were unnecessary as he was of sound mind and there was no danger of him falling from the 100-feet tall crane. A senior police officer at the scene noted in a log "Climber does not like road closures so should be used as bargaining tool" and kept the road closed to shorten the protest.
House of Commons protest
The Fathers 4 Justice House of Commons protest, also dubbed The Fun Powder Plot, is an incident that took place on May 19, 2004. Two members of Fathers 4 Justice, Guy Harrison and Ron Davis, threw two condoms filled with purple-dyed flour into the chamber of the House of Commons, one of which hit Prime Minister Tony Blair.
The incident took place at 12:18 BST during Prime Minister's Questions, the weekly session also shown live on television. Blair was surrounded by leading members of his Cabinet, including Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown and Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott, both of whom were also showered with flour dust from the "bombs".
Whilst throwing the bombs one of the organisation members shouted, "Fathers for justice!" Fathers 4 Justice spokesman Matt O'Connor later explained the choice of colour, stating that "purple is the international colour of equality". In the initial aftermath of the incident Blair seemed unperturbed by the incident and looked prepared to continue with the session. Speaker Michael Martin, however, immediately suspended proceedings and the chamber was rapidly emptied, as fears of a chemical or biological attack mounted.
Many commentators remarked that although the exodus was orderly and without panic, it was in fact the wrong thing to do. If the powder had been a biological or chemical agent, such as sarin or anthrax, then all potentially affected people should have been contained within the affected area in order to prevent any possible further spreading of the toxin.
The incident occurred as Blair was responding to aggressive questioning from Leader of the Opposition Michael Howard. It was reported that in the immediate aftermath of the incident Blair leant across to Howard and said, "I promise you Michael, I didn't organise that!" Howard was reported to respond, "And for once, I believe you!"
Although the incident turned out to be harmless, there were immediate calls for security in the House of Commons to be tightened. Home Secretary David Blunkett, speaking at a Police Federation conference in Brighton, said that such calls were likely to be heeded. Only the previous month a glass security screen had been installed so that members of the public in the Strangers' Gallery specifically could not throw anything into the chamber. The members of Fathers 4 Justice who perpetrated the incident were, however, vouched for by The Baroness Golding, a member of the House of Lords, which allowed them into an unscreened area. Lady Golding had offered the chance to witness the House's operations as a prize in a charity auction, which the group's two members had won.
Upon the resumption of the House at 13:30 BST, the Speaker made a statement and immediately rescinded the right of House of Lords members to allow members of the public into the unscreened area. Golding later made a tearful apology in the House of Lords. The following week, all members of the public were banned from sitting in the unscreened area, even those with an invitation from an MP or peer. Security for the Palace of Westminster is run by the Domestic Committees, rather than the Home Office.
Guy Richard Harrison (48, from Worthing) and Patrick Ronald Davis (36) were arrested and subsequently charged with using threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour. The relatively lenient charges, which attract a fine of up to £1000 but no prison sentence, led some in the press to speculate that the harsher charges were not pressed because they would have involved a show trial with Blair and other ministers forced to appear as witnesses, causing more publicity for the group, which police are keen to avoid.
Buckingham Palace protest
On September 13, 2004 at 14:20 BST, a group of Fathers 4 Justice protesters appeared outside the front gates of Buckingham Palace in London, and as the palace security was distracted, Jason Hatch and David Pyke, members of Fathers 4 Justice, ascended over the perimeter fence of the palace. Hatch, dressed as the fictional superhero Batman, and Pyke as sidekick Robin, unfurled a ladder and began climbing up to a roof of an attached building. Hatch made it to the top, but Pyke came down under threat from armed police. Hatch moved along the ledge of the Queen's Residence until he was near the palace balcony, when he revealed a banner which said "Super Dads of Fathers 4 Justice". He remained on the ledge for five hours until police were able to convince him to come down in a "cherry-picker" crane. Hatch was arrested for suspicion of causing criminal damage; Pyke was charged with aiding and abetting a criminal act.
Police initially thought the palace situation very serious, and were rumoured to have considered at one point firing at Hatch. However, they supposedly discarded that idea after deducing that Hatch was no threat to the royal family (none of whom were in the palace at the time).
In addition to being the group's latest major publicity stunt, reflecting F4J's view that the UK Government has so far failed to do anything to deal with the issues that the group is concerned about, it also incidentally was the latest event in a series which prominently displayed the dismal state of security around the royal family and government institutions.
The palace breach was clearly a very troubling issue to law enforcement agencies and to lawmakers. Liberal Democrat chairman Mark Oaten called the incident "at best highly embarrassing, and at worst could have had terrible consequences". David Davis, Conservative Shadow Home Secretary, described the breach of royal security as "scandalous incompetence".
- "Blair hit during Commons protest", BBC News, 19 May 2004
- "Engagements: 19 May 2004: House of Commons debates". TheyWorkForYou. 2004-05-19. Retrieved 2011-12-18.
- "Personal Statement: The Baroness Golding: 19 May 2004: House of Lords debates". TheyWorkForYou. 2004-05-19. Retrieved 2011-12-18.
Tower Bridge protest
House of Commons protest
- BBC - Blair hit during Commons protest
- Transcript of Prime Minister's questions on the 19th May 2004 from Hansard