Hodge Tells Court Of Being Handcuffed By Fathers4Justice

The former children’s minister Margaret Hodge told a jury yesterday that she was “shocked and distressed” when two members of Fathers4Justice handcuffed her as she spoke at a conference in Manchester.

Ms Hodge, the MP for Barking and now culture minister, was manacled to Jonathan Stanesby for 20 minutes and had to be freed with bolt cutters.

Mr Stanesby, 41, of Ivybridge, Devon, and Jason Hatch, 35, of Cheltenham, deny false imprisonment after the incident during a Law Society conference at the Lowry Hotel in Salford, Greater Manchester, in 2004.

Ms Hodge, 63, told Minshull Street crown court in Manchester that she had noticed two men entering the conference room as she finished her speech. “I thought they looked a bit odd,” she said. “They had ill-fitting suits on and did not look like lawyers. They walked in a few paces, they then rushed at me, one grabbed each arm. One of them shouted something like, ‘Margaret Hodge, I am arresting you for child abuse’. That was the start of the scuffle.”

Mr Hatch was allegedly pushed away, but Mr Stanesby managed to snap his handcuffs on to Ms Hodge’s wrist.

“I was obviously completely taken aback. I did have a pain on my wrist for about six months afterwards. [The man] was trying to talk to me and I just thought I was not going to engage with him at all. He wanted to talk about access to children, fathers who had been separated from their spouses or partners.”

The minister said it was “awful” for a 60-year-old woman to be attacked in such a way. “If we are to protect and maintain … democracy, people who are elected representatives must feel able to go about their business without fear of being physically assaulted. I was upset and I was very disturbed by that incident.”

David Gottlieb, defending Mr Hatch, said one purpose of the conference was to discuss a green paper on fathers’ access rights and reform of the 1989 Children Act.

He disputed that Mr Hatch had actually laid hands on the minister, but Ms Hodge was adamant he had grabbed her.

She was then asked why she decided to be a witness in the case, since other fathers’ rights stunts had not been pursued through the courts. She said it was her public duty to act as a witness to protect other elected representatives from such actions.

Mr Gottlieb cited the Peterloo massacre of 1819 and the suffragettes as examples of direct action used as legitimate political protest.

The hearing continues.