The Story of a Real Life Father
Jailed for Waving at my Daughter
By JENNY JOHNSTON and RACHEL HALLIWELL -
Daily Mail, UK
Denied access to his three children after his divorce, Mark was jailed for standing outside his house to wave to them. It took ten years and 133 hearings before they were reunited. How CAN the Government insist cases like his are kept secret?
Every day there is some reminder of what Mark Harris calls 'the lost years'.
It could be his daughter's reference to a particular birthday party or a family holiday. It could be talk of exams sat, dentists visited or pop stars worshipped.
Each time it happens, he feels a stab of regret. 'I missed so much,' he reveals, with understandable bitterness. 'They took my daughter's childhood, her formative years, from me. Lisa is 20 now. I didn't see her between the ages of ten and 16. An awful lot happens in a child's life in that time, and I missed it all.'
Reunited: Lisa, 20, with her father, Mark Harris
Lisa missed a lot, too. She sits by Mark's side as he talks, a beautiful and assured young woman, but one still coming to terms with the fact that her father simply wasn't there when she needed him - and for an entire decade she did not know why.
'There were times when I needed a father figure - for reassurance and advice,' she says, with quiet restraint. 'There just wasn't one there.'
But the story of what happened to the Harris family isn't just another tragic case of broken homes and estrangement. Mark, Lisa and her two younger sisters were wrenched apart by the state.
Mark was not a feckless, irresponsible father. He did not walk out of his children's lives. Rather, he was ordered out by the family courts, and when he objected - insisting it was his right to see them - he was dealt with in a scandalous way.
Mark Harris went to prison for his girls. He was jailed for waving to them after a court order demanded he sever all contact. It was the most shameful chapter in an extraordinary ten-year custody battle.
He has now 'won' - today, two of his daughters live with him - only because they shared their father's determination to re-establish their relationship.
He has lived every father's worst nightmare, and every miserable step is etched on his face. 'It took ten years, 133 court appearances before 33 different judges, two prison sentences and a hunger strike before I was given permission to be with my daughters again,' he says quietly.
'What happened to my family is unforgivable. And that it was all sanctioned - ordered - by a system that is supposed to help families is outrageous.'
The controversial family court system has much to answer for in this case. Mark Harris isn't the first father who has questioned how it operates. Family court proceedings are notoriously secretive, and campaigners have long appealed for the proceedings to be more open and judges more accountable.
That is not to be, however. Last week the Lord Chancellor ruled that proceedings must remain secret . . .
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