Man jailed for defacing portrait

Andover Advertiser: Fathers4Justice campaigner Tim Haries defaced a portrait of the Queen displayed in Westminster Abbey Fathers4Justice campaigner Tim Haries defaced a portrait of the Queen displayed in Westminster Abbey

A Fathers4Justice campaigner was sentenced to six months' imprisonment today for defacing a portrait of the Queen with paint in Westminster Abbey.

Tim Haries, who told jurors he vandalised the picture to highlight the ''social justice issue of our time'', had denied a charge of causing criminal damage of more than £5,000 but was found guilty at London's Southwark Crown Court last month.

The father-of-two smuggled a can of purple spray paint into the Abbey on June 13 last year before writing the word ''help'' on the painting, which is worth £160,000.

Recorder of Westminster Judge Alistair McCreath told him: "This was a deliberate and planned causing of damage to a valuable item of property on public display, carried out as a publicity exercise."

The judge said the sentence must acknowledge Haries' distress and unhappiness, but have regard to the case's aggravating features, and to a degree deter others.

Jurors heard how Haries shouted ''fathers for justice'' as he scrawled the graffiti on the large oil painting before being tackled to the ground by steward Peter Crook.

He told Mr Crook: ''Sorry mate, I've got nothing against the Queen,'' before telling a police officer who arrived at the scene that he was ''guilty as charged''.

Photographs of the incident were posted on a Fathers4Justice Facebook page.

Haries, 42, decided to represent himself towards the end of his trial and directly addressed jurors, telling them he carried out the act as a protest against the ''social catastrophe'' of fathers not being allowed access to their children.

He said that, while he had nothing against the Queen personally, he targeted her portrait because of her symbolic role as head of the justice system.

Haries, of Bellis Avenue, Doncaster, later said he "would not hesitate to petition the Queen again by peaceful protest on behalf of my children and the millions of children separated from their fathers by the British Government".

The portrait by artist Ralph Heimans was cordoned off by a rope in the Abbey's Chapter House as part of a wider exhibition to celebrate the Queen's Diamond Jubilee.

The 11ft by 9ft painting was bought by Westminster Abbey for £160,000 after being on display in the artist's native Australia.

The court heard today it cost £9,204 to repair, with insurers paying £4,000 and an excess of £5,000.

The oil on canvas depicts the Queen in the sacrarium of Westminster Abbey, also known as the Coronation Theatre, standing at the centre circle of the Cosmati pavement, on the spot where she was crowned.

The judge said he was in no position to come to any informed conclusions about why the Family Court ultimately denied Haries access to his children - other than to observe that in the system of family justice, the needs and interests of the children were paramount.

"I accept that your separation from your daughters for a period of four years caused you real anguish. I also accept that you felt that the legal processes by which you tried to have contact with them had failed you.

"But I do not accept that the means that you chose to adopt to make your protest were in any way justified.

"This was, in reality, a choice you made, not a sudden ill-considered act under immediate provocation."

Haries had prepared by buying a can of spray paint and taking it into the Abbey, the judge said.

"You caused damage to the painting, disappointment to those who had come to see it, cost to the Abbey and their insurance in putting it right, and almost certainly some degree of offence to many people who would regard an attack on a portrait of the monarch as unacceptable.

"I am satisfied that your assertion that you intended to do no more than cause damage which could be easily repaired is simply not true.

"I have no doubt that you intended to do as much damage as you could, and it was only the intervention of Mr Crook that limited the damage to the extent that it was possible to repair the painting at a cost less than £10,000."

The judge said the opportunity to have close access to works of art was greatly valued by many people.

"Those who act as you did put that opportunity at risk. It would be a sad day when works of art can only be viewed from a distance or from behind barriers."

Haries had about 20 supporters in court for the hearing and there were shouts directed towards the judicial bench at the end of "disgusting", "shame on you" and "Fathers4Justice".

There was also a shout of "how about justice?" during the judge's sentencing remarks and he threatened to have the court cleared before two supporters gave undertakings not to make further interruptions.

After the hearing the group said in a statement that Haries had begun a hunger strike after being sent to prison, in protest at the "politically motivated" sentence.

It said: "He will continue his hunger strike until his case is reopened and he is reunited with his daughters."

Haries said: "I hereby declare that the judge's decision to ignore the Probation Service's recommendation of a community service order and replace it with a custodial sentence leaves me with no alternative than to enter an immediate hunger strike.

"I consider that as the custodial sentence is well outside of the Probation Service recommendations, this can only be a political motivated decision. I therefore now regard myself as a political prisoner.

"My only crime is to fight to see my two daughters whom I love dearly, after being ordered to abandon them by the family courts.

"My children and I have done nothing to warrant such treatment by the courts and our Government."

He revealed he had made a final application to the Family Courts to be reunited with his children and added: "My fast will continue until this application is granted. Until this application is granted I will accept nothing but water, no food, sugar, glucose, vitamins, supplements etc. I hereby insist that any medical examinations are conducted by an external and independent doctor."

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