July 21, 2009
By David Baker
CIVIL rights campaigners Fathers 4 Justice descended on Harrow Crown Court last week posing as Guantanamo Bay prisoners - dressed in orange boiler suits with sacks over their heads.
The protesters, who champion the rights of dads in family courts, held up a sign saying 'separated dad or terrorist – both treated the same'.
They were at the court based in Hailsham Drive on Thursday last week to support a former member of the group who was handed a six month prison sentence.
Geoffrey Hibbert, 49, from Hampshire, was ordered in front of a jury after he clambered to the top of an overhead sign and unravelled banners on the M25, forcing police to close off 12 lanes on the busy motorway.
The desperate dad spent more than eight hours dangling from the sign at junction 14, near neighbouring borough Hillingdon, causing tailbacks of up to 55 miles long.
Despite claiming his actions were not dangerous and were part of a legitimate right to protest, the estranged parent was convicted of one count of causing a public nuisance and a second of endangering motorists, following a trial.
The court was told that more than £14,000 pounds of taxpayers' cash was spent on emergency services during the protest and an estimated £580,000 pounds was lost to businesses effected by the closure of the motorway.
However, spokesman Richard West, from New Fathers for Justice, said: "This trial has been a complete sham from start to finish.
"The sole motivation is political. Mr Hibbert has been made a scapegoat and in the own judge's words, sentenced to deter others."
However friends and family of the defendant criticised the activists for encouraging him to stage the protest and then "leaving him to rot."
Nephew Paul Morrison, 35, said: "Fathers for Justice was a bad influence and took advantage of him. They gave him bad advice and once he had given them publicity they left him to rot."
A tight security presence had been laid on at the hearing with members of the public issued passes to get into the court and a number of policeman sat in and outside the courtroom to deter further protests.However, once police had left the scene around nine campaigners changed into the boiler suits before waving banners outside the court.