Fathers 4 Justice campaigner ‘elated’ at court result
Jonathan ‘Jolly’ Stanesby has hit the headlines for handcuffing himself to MPs, scaling American monuments and ultimately serving a prison sentence in his fight for joint custody of his ten-year-old.
Now, crippled by debt and “emotionally drained” from the gruelling legal process, the 39-year-old, from Ivybridge, has told The Herald his amazing story.
He described himself as “elated” by this month’s court result, but hit out at the “oppressive” system which he says forced him to take such drastic action through the high-profile Fathers 4 Justice campaign.
Jolly said: “I’ve only ever asked for one thing: to be able to see my daughter.
“I’m obviously elated but I’m also very bitter about the whole experience. It destroys your life.
“Our system is not working, it’s completely and utterly discriminatory and for me it’s been a war against that bureaucracy since 2001.”
Earlier this month, Jolly and his ex-partner issued an agreed statement stating that they had reached a shared care arrangement agreement which had been approved by a judge.
A founding member of Fathers 4 Justice, Jolly’s fight for awareness has seen him climb monuments such as Stonehenge in fancy dress, sleep in cranes for a week and even handcuff himself to former children’s minister Margaret Hodge.
Finally, after spending 24 hours on deputy Labour leader Harriet Harman’s roof last June dressed as a superhero, he was hit with a two-month prison sentence.
The registered childminder, who had never been in trouble with the law until his custody battle began, ended up sharing a cell in Wormwood Scrubs with an international drug-smuggler and a man convicted of a stabbing.
He said the long battle had left him cynical, untrusting and angry.
“It was as though I was locked up for wanting to see my daughter,” Jolly said. “She is now living with me half of the time and she’s chuffed to bits – it’s what we’ve always wanted.
“But it’s left me completely emotionally drained.
“I’m still paying fines, I’m still in debt, I don’t trust anybody and I’ll probably never be able to go back to the work I loved now I’ve been to prison.”
Jolly said police had visited his house in Manor Close more than 80 times, twice raiding his home and carting away his computer to gather intelligence.
He said: “Before this I had no criminal record, no involvement with the police whatsoever. But I’ve now been arrested and also suffered broken ribs and other injuries.
“I had my driving licence taken away and police were watching me all the time.
“I felt constantly targeted, like they were waiting for me to slip up.
“Every time I went to London two uniformed police officers would follow me everywhere, even into the toilet.
“When they raided my house they took everything, even pictures my daughter had done for me.
“But they brought it all back because I had nothing to hide.
“It was so emotionally crushing.
“I’ve felt like giving up many times but you’re in a situation where you can’t give up – it’s your child.”
Jolly said he had received dozens of letters of support from across the globe while in jail at Wormwood Scrubs and HMP Wandsworth, where supporters gathered outside to protest at his sentence.
He also spent a night in an American cell, chained at the feet after being arrested by an armed SWAT team when he scaled the iconic Lincoln Memorial to unveil a banner in 2007.
“I have feared for my life,” Jolly admitted. “I was chased by the FBI when I went to New York to shut down the Brooklyn Bridge.
“They think differently out there – they told me if I didn’t comply they would be forced to shoot me.
“They said it would make their jobs easier if myself, and another protester I was with, went with them to see the sights and went to restaurants and clubs so we did – they treated us like royalty and paid for everything.
“They said we were thought to be the biggest threat to New York at that moment; we had nine men on us.
“But Fathers 4 Justice has always been a non-violent organisation.”
The stunts began just after Jolly and his ex-partner separated in 2000, with his daughter less than two years old.
He wanted greater access to his child and began the gruelling battle for shared residence.
He said: “I had a spacious house, I had great references, I was a registered childminder and I’d been helping in the nursery.
“I was the perfect picture of a dad.
“Then I went to court for the so-called final hearing and I felt I was completely and utterly humiliated.
“I was so angry – I left it a week then I climbed onto the Plymouth Courts’ roof.
“I was overwhelmed by the response and it just snowballed from there – I had to get the message out there.
“But it wasn’t really until I was in prison that I realised how much people are watching.”
Jolly first hit the headlines when he staged a protest from the cab of a 100-foot crane in Exeter in 2003.
Then he took his campaign to the capital, proceeding to scale the Royal Courts of Justice in London.
He also staged a Christmas protest on Tower Bridge, took up residence on the Tamar Bridge, gatecrashed the Queen’s Birthday Parade and stormed family law conferences with other activists.
At the height of Father 4 Justice’s notoriety, the group was even falsely accused of plotting to kidnap then-Prime Minister Tony Blair’s son – an accusation that still angers Jolly.
Now, despite securing shared residence of his daughter Jolly is determined to keep fighting for other fathers in the UK and beyond.
He said: “It’s not about what you miss out on as a parent, it’s what your child misses out on.
“Something like 280,000 cases went through the family courts last year and thousands more dads can’t afford to take it that far.
“For years they had taken men out one by one and we’d never had a voice, but we’ve set the wheels turning now and I don’t regret a single thing, even prison.
“The only thing I do regret is the fact I’ve had to go through it.
“It seems to be guilty until proven innocent for dads in the family courts – and it really hurts.
“For a father it starts with being out of the family home, then he has to apply to see his children, then the CSA starts contacting him for money and then most give up.
“Then he’s made financially impaired – and on top of that he’s emotionally drained.”
Jolly said his own legal bills had run into tens of thousands of pounds, while the legal process took up so much of his time that he was forced to give up childminding and working for a local architects’ firm.
His finances were hit so hard he was forced to give up land near Kingsbridge where he had been rearing sheep and, eventually, he had take up Legal Aid and claim benefits.
Jolly admits he found hard to cope with at times.
“You are constantly depressed,” he said. “It takes over your life.
“In the end I couldn’t work anymore and I’ve had counselling because I couldn’t cope.
“I don’t want to be out of work – I want to be a childminder and even foster children.
“But I couldn’t give up the fight, how could a dad not want to see his daughter?
“Financially, it’s the days in court, it’s paying for parking, it’s making phone calls to the solicitors – even ink for your printer all adds up.
“It can grind you down and make you give up.
“I know a number of people who have had to sell their houses and move back in with their parents after spending £50-60,000 on legal fees.”
Half a dozen boxes packed with legal documents are testament to his eight-year battle, which has seen 23 separate agencies and hundreds of members of their staff take on the case.
Jolly is convinced the system is in place to keep people in work – not to benefit the children who have to go through the struggle.
He added: “Society’s biggest asset is children.
“But it doesn’t work in the interest of the child, it works in the interest of the resident parent, which is the mother in 97 per cent of cases.
“I think it’s an oppressive system, but it employs a hell of a lot of people.
“At the end of the day it’s all about money; a broken family causes big business, whereas a happy family doesn’t.
“Children need stability and they need both parents in their lives.
“Research has proved that children without both parents are more likely to fall into gangs, crime, drugs, everything.
“One thing I found in prison was people were in there for things that mostly stemmed from family matters.
“A child like my daughter, who has seen eight years of this, is bound to be affected by it forever. How can she not be?”
Jolly, who reformed the group as New Fathers 4 Justice after one of its founding members left, is determined to take the campaign to other countries such as the US, where he says dads have similar difficulties.
He is currently in discussions with numerous other organisations about ways to take the campaign forward.
But he said that, for now, he is looking forward to finally being a dad again.
He added: “When you’re cut off by the courts you’re cut off from their school life, their friends, everything.
“I have a lot of catching up to do.
“My daughter can’t wait to spend time with me, and she can’t understand the system either – even at her age.
“It’s the little things that I’m elated about now, like I’ve been able to get her a phone so we can talk whenever we want.
“She’s very artistic, she plays the piano, does paintings and she loves animals.
“With Fathers 4 Justice, I don’t want to see something I’ve started go to pieces so for that reason I’ll continue.
“But my family comes first – that was always the reason in the first place.”