South Yorkshire Fathers4Justice protester jailed

Fathers4Justice campaigner Tim Haries
Fathers4Justice campaigner Tim Haries
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A South Yorkshire Fathers4Justice campaigner has been jailed for six months for defacing a portrait of the Queen with paint in Westminster Abbey.

Tim Haries, aged 42, of Bellis Avenue, Doncaster, 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 dad-of-two smuggled a can of purple spray paint into the Abbey on June 13 before writing the word ‘help’ on the £160,000 painting.

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.

Haries 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 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.”