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Caped Invader Gets Past Buckingham Palace's Tights Security

Dressed as Batman, a man sneaks onto the grounds to publicize issue of fathers' rights.

September 14, 2004|John Daniszewski | Times Staff Writer

LONDON — Golly, whoosh, wham! Batman invaded Buckingham Palace on Monday.

A 33-year-old man dressed as the caped crusader from Gotham City scaled an iron fence around the palace grounds and sprinted past guards, then ascended to a ledge next to the royal family's second-floor balcony at the front of the palace.

He unfurled a banner that read, "Super Dads of Fathers 4 Justice Fighting for Your Right to See Your Kids," and remained there for about five hours. A partner, dressed as Robin, was stopped by guards before he could reach the ledge. Both men were later arrested.

While the incursion was meant to be a colorful act of civil disobedience, palace security officials were not amused by the latest in a series of serious security breaches at the palace and other British institutions.

The chief of the Metropolitan Police Service, John Stevens, said Jason Hatch might have been shot if guards had not immediately determined he was not a terrorist. Home Secretary David Blunkett told Parliament there would be an urgent review of security procedures.

Neither the queen nor any other royal family members were at the palace. She is still on her summer vacation at Balmoral in Scotland.

Hatch, of Gloucester, a father of two children who says he has been denied visitation rights, carried out the protest to dramatize the cause of his organization of divorced fathers. The group contends that British family law and the courts discriminate against them in custody cases.

Hatch's accomplice, Dave Pyke, 48, told the BBC in an interview that it had not been difficult to breach the palace.

"We are totally untrained, just ordinary guys, and if we can get in there, anybody can get in there," he said.

Fathers 4 Justice has staged a series of publicity-generating stunts, including a climber decked out as Spiderman who was responsible for stopping the world's largest Ferris wheel, the London Eye, over the weekend and a "flour bomb" attack from the public gallery of Parliament four months ago. The members dress as superheroes to illustrate their belief that every father is a superhero to his kids, a spokesman said.

Royal security has been breached before. In November, a Daily Mirror reporter revealed that he had been hired by the palace despite giving false references. In June 2003, a comedian dressed as Osama bin Laden entered Windsor Castle during a 21st birthday party for Prince William and was able to approach the young royal.

Monday's protest began at 2:30 p.m. Cohorts created a diversion at the front of the palace, a Fathers 4 Justice coordinator said, as the caped pair scampered over a low exterior fence. Hatch used a ladder they carried to scale a building abutting the palace and then climbed onto the ledge. From there he shuffled to the front of the building.

He managed to stay up on the ledge until 7:15 p.m., when authorities brought him down in a yellow crane.

For much of the afternoon, he stood just out of reach, waving his arms triumphantly at the tourists and supporters gathered in front of the palace.

Flummoxed police standing on the balcony where Queen Elizabeth II customarily greets her subjects on state occasions tried to talk him into surrendering, to no avail.

"The queen has a great sense of humor, so there will be some amusement," predicted Christopher Morgan, royal correspondent for the Sunday Times, speaking on the BBC as the protest unfolded.

Richard Castle, the Fathers 4 Justice coordinator, defended the tactic in a telephone interview.

"We have to break the law in order to change it," he said.

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