Reported Plot to Kidnap Blair's Son Fells British Activist Group

Times Staff Writer

An activist fathers' rights group said Wednesday that it was disbanding after a report that some former members had considered abducting Prime Minister Tony Blair's youngest son to draw attention to their cause.

Matt O'Connor, founder of the group Fathers 4 Justice, said that some radical former followers had become a "dark underbelly" that made it necessary to break up the 3-year-old group that had fought for changes in Britain's family laws.

"I will not let this organization be hijacked by militants, and I ask all fathers to respect our commitment to peaceful, nonviolent direct action no matter how aggrieved they feel," O'Connor said in a statement posted on the group's website.

He made the announcement after the Sun newspaper Wednesday reported an alleged plot by "lunatic fringe" elements to seize Leo Blair, 5, for a short time.

The idea apparently never progressed beyond the talking stage, and it was impossible to judge how serious the individuals might have been. However, Fathers 4 Justice had staged other headline-grabbing acts of civil disobedience in recent years, including trespassing and climbing onto a balcony at Buckingham Palace, and tossing flour-filled condoms at Blair and his ministers during a session of Parliament.

The group was formed to campaign for changes in family law and procedures in Britain, seeking more access for fathers to their children in cases of divorce or marriage separation.

Because the protesters dressed up as comic-book superheroes such as Batman and Spiderman, scaling numerous London landmarks, they were often referred to as "the men in tights."

According to the Sun and other broadcast and press reports, anti-terrorism police were not convinced that there was a serious effort to carry out the plan and the case resulted in warnings rather than arrests.

"Fortunately, we think we nipped this in the bud. There have been no arrests, although inquiries are continuing," the Sun quoted an unidentified police source as saying. "It was good intelligence work."

Blair's office declined to answer any questions about the reported plan, citing standard policy to not comment on security matters.

O'Connor said he was aghast that any of the group's members could have even considered taking the prime minister's son.

"It's very difficult to establish if it is actually true," O'Connor said. "There have been no arrests and far as we are aware, there's been no form of police investigation. But we think it is certainly possible that ex-members of the organization who were expelled last year may have been planning something like this."

Speaking on BBC Radio, he said the episode "puts into question the whole existence of the organization, because I certainly wouldn't want to be associated with anything like this."

"We've spent the last three years trying to unite children with their fathers and there's this dark underbelly out there in the country that obviously came up with the absolutely grotesque idea of actually separating a child from their father," he added.

O'Connor said police apparently had visited some former members of the group over the December holidays and warned them that anyone who tried to intrude into 10 Downing Street, Blair's official residence, faced the risk of being met with deadly force.

Blair and his wife, Cherie, have four children. Leo was born three years after Blair became prime minister. The couple's other children are 22, 20 and 17. The Blairs keep their children shielded from public view.

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