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Last Updated: Thursday, 25 November, 2004, 10:58 GMT
Was Real Story 'the real story'?
Mike Lewis
Series Producer, Real Story

Dozens of people called in to complain about Real Story's feature on violent fathers which featured pressure group Fathers 4 Justice. The chief accusation was that the programme was one-sided. Series Producer Mike Lewis says that the coverage was as balanced as possible.

Fathers 4 Justice protesters dressed as superheroes
Fathers 4 Justice claim their protests are always good-natured

On this week's Real Story (transmitted on 22 November), we decided to look at the specific question of what contact fathers who have a history of violence should expect.

Should they be allowed unsupervised access to their children?

Women's Aid, Refuge and the NSPCC are worried that as the legal and judicial system wrestles with the debate over fathers' rights, the welfare of children is being compromised.

They claim the success of the Fathers 4 Justice campaign is putting pressure on courts to grant access when it is not safe to do so.

They say that in cases where domestic violence exists, the family courts are granting access without adequate checks to guarantee a child's safety.

Violent partners

In this week's Real Story, we met women who had fled their ex-partners and were now living in refuges.

Fiona Bruce
Fiona Bruce was accused of blatant bias in the programme

They claimed that the courts were forcing them to hand their children over on access visits to violent partners and that this was putting theirs and their children's welfare in danger.

Fathers 4 Justice told Real Story that they do not believe that a man's history of violence automatically means that he should be denied access to his children.

In Real Story, Fathers 4 Justice spokesman Matt O'Connor was questioned on this policy.

He told Fiona Bruce: "If we believe in the rehabilitation of people in this country, if we believe in the redemption, if we believe that just because somebody might have made a mistake in the past then they cannot do something positive in the future, then it's a very different kind of society to the one I was brought up in."

Mr O'Connor said that women often falsify claims of domestic violence to prevent dads' contact with their children.

We also examined an undercurrent of concern about Fathers 4 Justice's campaigning tactics.

Fathers 4 Justice protesting at York Minster
Fathers 4 Justice have staged headline-grabbing protests

Police and court workers told Real Story that they were worried about the group's tactics.

'Good natured'

Fathers 4 Justice say they only carry out "good natured stunts" to highlight their cause.

But the programme revealed that there are some other men who have become far more militant.

Some who claim they are members of Fathers 4 Justice, although there's no proof they are, have deliberately tried to intimidate court officials and women's charities.

We featured an interview with Harry Fletcher, from the National Association of Probation Officers, who has a dossier of aggressive and intimidating emails from people claiming to be from fathers rights groups.

Jason Hatch, Fathers 4 Justice protestor, on Buckingham Palace
Batman at Buckingham Palace achieved blanket media coverage

But Matt O'Connor distanced his group from their activities, saying that Fathers 4 Justice work closely with the police and do not condone such activities.

He also said that any member who brings his campaign group into disrepute will have their membership terminated.

On the wider issue of child safety in court, Lord Filkin, the minister in charge of children's welfare in court, said that changes that come into effect in January 2005 will focus on the seriousness of domestic violence.

He said: "We're changing the way in which CAFCASS (Child and Family Court Advisory Service) is used so that we're not routinely asking them to do reports in situations when there aren't complex issues of violence."

Some of your comments on the programme

  • "I found this edition of Real Story an absolutely disgusting piece of journalism. Unbalanced, unjustified, unfair and downright UNFAIR."

  • "Child abuse is a very serious matter and can be carried out by a mother, father or any other person. The programme portrayed separated fathers as being the only ones that commit this hideous crime."

    What about Mothers For Justice - does such a group exist?

  • "I felt like I was watching my life on TV. I left a violent husband and am still fighting the courts regarding my children and access visits. What about Mothers For Justice - does such a group exist?"

  • "The need to thoroughly examine and then act on an individual's violent background has nothing to do with any call for greater rights for such a large section of society (fathers). You are merely trying to confirm the outdated and false stereotype that somehow equates all men with domestic violence. I was very disappointed."

  • "Congratulations on your story. It was good to hear someone putting mothers' views across."

  • "Although the points raised were extremely valid, in that no children should be put in an "at risk" situation, I did consider the program extremely biased."


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