Protesters deny criminal damage

THREE Suffolk protestors claim they are acting in the long and honourable tradition of the Suffragettes, Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King.Sarah Ashford, 39, Matthew O'Connor, 36, and Shaun O'Connell, 40, - members of the campaign organisation Fathers 4 Justice (F4J) - admit they layered purple paint on the door of the Children and Family Courts Advisory Support Service (Cafcass) in Foundation Street, Ipswich.

THREE Suffolk protestors claim they are acting in the long and honourable tradition of the Suffragettes, Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King.

Sarah Ashford, 39, Matthew O'Connor, 36, and Shaun O'Connell, 40, - members of the campaign organisation Fathers 4 Justice (F4J) - admit they layered purple paint on the door of the Children and Family Courts Advisory Support Service (Cafcass) in Foundation Street, Ipswich.

But they have pleaded not guilty to charges of criminal damage and maintain their actions were part of a peaceful protest highlighting that Cafcass staff are under trained, discriminate against fathers and destroy families.

Fellow F4J members packed out South East Suffolk Magistrates Court public gallery yesterday .


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They came in support of Ashford, of Goldsmith Close, Bury St Edmunds; O'Connor, of Water Lane, Cavendish; and O'Connell, of Sandiego Road, Gosport.

Saqib Rauf, prosecuting, told the court that the three of them painted Cafcass's door purple while other members of the group shouted slogans over a megaphone and waved banners on February 5.

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Judith Hubert, service manager for the Suffolk branch of Cafcass and a witness for the prosecution, said to the court: "I was in a meeting and there was suddenly a lot of noise from the front. I could see about three or four people shouting.

"They were shouting that we were not trained and that we damaged families.

"I looked out the spy hole, but it was obstructed and dark. I felt anxious and concerned for the staff.

"When I went outside, after the police had arrived, I saw that the door and the white surround had been painted purple. We had to have the brass work cleaned and the door re-painted. It cost about £190."

O'Connor said to the court: "We have never denied painting the door purple. It was a deliberate act to highlight to the people of Ipswich that they are at grave risk of losing their children if Cafcass is involved (in their divorce or separation proceedings).

"The reason why we are here today is because we deliberately broke the law.

"Is it necessary to break the law to highlight an injustice? It is, it is right, and we have a long and honourable tradition of doing so in this country – from the Trades' Union movement to the Suffragettes.

"We are not seeking publicity for publicity's sake, but to stimulate debate about whether it is right for 100 children a day to lose total or partial contact with their fathers."

Ashford, speaking before the court, added: "The colour is supposed to represent equality. It would give Cafcass the idea each day as they walk into work that they should split responsibility equally between both parents."

District Judge Dawson said: "I can accept that you wish to protest, but it is a question of whether your wish to protest is a lawful excuse."

The trial continues.

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