Belfast Telegraph

Friday 18 April 2014

Activist 'defaced Abbey statue'

A campaigner was detained for allegedly defacing a statue at Westminster Abbey

An activist has been arrested on suspicion of criminal damage after allegedly defacing a statue at Westminster Abbey in a protest against the family court system.

Cheryl Corless, a campaigner for pressure group Stolen Children of the UK (S.C.O.T. UK), was detained by police after entering the central London church and allegedly spraying the statue on the left hand of the nave, protest group Fathers4Justice said in a statement.

Martin Matthews, a Fathers4Justice campaigner from Great Bookham in Surrey, was also present during the incident but was not arrested, the organisation said.

It is the third protest of its kind in recent weeks and the second in Westminster Abbey itself, and comes after Fathers4Justice encouraged fathers to take direct action against the political establishment in the spirit of the Suffragettes.

A Fathers4Justice spokesman said: "This was a copycat Suffragette-style protest. Obviously that is the way we are heading at the moment after the two protests on paintings. Everyone is celebrating what the Suffragettes did 100 years ago and now we are doing the same type of thing to get equality for fathers in the justice system.

"This protest is about the whole family courts system and the fact that they operate in secret behind closed doors - they are unaccountable and can do whatever they like without the public knowing a thing about it. We want to see a transparent and open family court system."

A Scotland Yard spokesman said: "At 7.05pm we were called to reports that a statue had been spray painted in Westminster Abbey. A woman has been arrested on suspicion of criminal damage and is being held at a central London police station. A man was also present but was not arrested."

It comes after Paul Douglas Manning, 57, a protester thought to be linked to Fathers4Justice, glued a four-inch photograph of a young boy to John Constable's masterpiece The Hay Wain in the National Gallery. He has been charged with criminal damage.

Fathers4Justice campaigner Tim Haries allegedly sprayed the word "help" onto a portrait of the Queen in Westminster Abbey on June 13. He has already indicated that he will plead not guilty to one count of criminal damage.

On Friday, Fathers4Justice announced that it was abandoning its five-year "attempted engagement with the political establishment" and called on fathers to take "independent weekly direct action". In 2004 Mr Matthews ran in front of the horse that went on to win the King George VI Chase at Epsom racecourse dressed as Father Christmas, in a reference to the protest which killed suffragette Emily Davison in 1913.

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