Fed up with the lack of justice in the Family Law system, a group of fathers in Oldham took to the streets in protest, led by campaigner, Chris Thompson. Instead of simply protesting in one place, this time, the group took the protest to what they say is the source of the problem: solicitors and the local courts.
Starting at the offices of the Oldham Chronicle newspaper for a brief meeting with a local journalist and a few photos from the Chronicle’s resident photographer, the group moved on to the Queen Street (locally known as “solicitors’ row”). Chanting “no jail for being a dad” and “What do we want? Justice! When do we want it? Now!” the protestors were somewhat bemused when one of the firms of solicitors put up a sign, saying “RINGING 999”. What on earth could they possibly been afraid of? The truth, maybe?
Having made their point in “solicitors’ row”, the protest moved on, through Oldham High Street, where a crowd gathered. Mr Thompson reported that, “Everyone was very supportive, asking constructive questions and joining in the chants and applauding as the protest passed by.” At this point, the local police are said to have arrived, which seemed to set the scene for the rest of the day…
When the protestors arrived at the next port of call, Oldham Magistrate’s Court, where Mr Thompson states that his family was “ripped apart”, they were met with the customary private security guards from G4S. Within a couple of minutes, 7police officers arrived, so security now outnumbered the protestors by 2:1. Mr Thompson said, “It was like they knew we were coming. So having been threatened with arrest a couple of times (all caught on video) and told that if I try to enter under ‘some other dodgy act’ they will arrest me, we moved on!” From speaking with Mr Thompson, the ‘dodgy act’ that the police officer was referring to was that of Common Law. Far from being a ‘dodgy act’, Common Law (the Law of the Land) has been established in England for over 800-years, since the Magna Carta. As police officers, under oath, they have a clear duty to uphold the Law of the Land, ensuring that freedom of movement is protected and that includes access to public property, which a court most certainly is.
Not wanting to allow the actions of the police and G4S to taint the day, Mr Thompson and the other protestors moved on to Oldham Council, where they were allowed access, albeit on their agreement that the megaphone would be silenced when they were inside. The group were also able to secure an appointment with the Complaints Manager, which had previously not been forthcoming. After the Council offices, the demonstration moved on to the ultimate destination, the County Court, where they said “Hundreds of families are destroyed every year in this building.” Mr Thompson also had a personal message for one of the judges sitting that day, as he had been pivotal in the break-up of his family, Mr Thompson stated. Once again, G4S and the police prevented the group from entering another public building and the protestors were threatened with arrest should they attempt to do so. Mr Thompson assures us that he had liaised fully with the police, so it seems strange that the local police officers on the day had not done their homework – it appears that, when asked, none of them were actually able to say what crime anyone would be arrested for!
Overall, Mr Thompson was pleased with the protest and the local newspaper, the Oldham Chronicle, penned a sympathetic article. Many people wait for a protest to be organised; Mr Thompson has shown that direct local action can be just as effective, regardless of the number of people involved.
We asked Mr Thompson to give us some background to his disgust with the Family Court system. This is what he wrote: “I had my kids 2 days a week. I have a boy and a girl (5 and 7) who I haven’t seen for a year… I had to pick up and drop off my kids at a police station waiting room, while my ex continued making allegations against me, even bringing in her family to testify at the same time I was dropping off the kids. This went on for 4 years and she was even given an official police warning for harassment! When I reapplied for contact, we attended Oldham Magistrate’s. When I arrived, I saw that the Magistrate was having a secret meeting with my ex-wife’s solicitor and that documents were being exchanged – I was told to wait outside. When I was finally allowed back into my own hearing, I was immediately told that contact had been reduced to just 2-hours a week in a contact centre! I was horrified! After only a week, my ex changed her mind and decided that she didn’t want this to happen at all, despite the court order… To cut a long, distressing story short, the case was eventually transferred to the County Court, where I was told that I was “wasting taxpayer’s money” and I was banned from making any further application for contact for a period of 5-years! So, from being a loving dad, to 2-days a week, to 2-hours a week in a contact centre, to no contact at all for 5-years; all because of the spite of one person and the injustice of the Family Courts!”
Mr Thompson and the other protestors are now planning a similar demonstration in Bradford.
View the Oldham Chronicle’s coverage of the protest here