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Fathers complain warning letters defame them

Fathers targeted with “threatening” letters after relationships soured with former partners are examining legal options to stop the practice, a children’s advocacy charity said.

Two fathers, requesting anonymity to protect the privacy of their families, met last week with The Royal Gazette alongside Eddie Tavares, co-founder of the group Childwatch, claiming the letters served on them by the Centre Against Abuse were defamatory.

A 52-year-old who was served with a letter last year, with further copies sent to police, said he was considering joining others for a class-action lawsuit against the Centre.

But Laurie Shiell, executive director of the Centre, said the “warning not to trespass, harass and/or contact” was a commonplace form letter, with language taken from the Summary Offences Act 1926.

She added: “This document is not owned by Centre Against Abuse and many lawyers have also used it, and anyone in the public or private can use this letter and send it to someone who they no longer want contact with.

“Many companies have used it to request people who they no longer want coming into their business.”

Mr Tavares and his clients insisted the wording of the letter overstepped a line.

“It ruins relationships,” Mr Tavares said, adding the letters had been on the rise.

He said putting unproven allegations in writing and sharing them with police “are only to fan the flames of alienation”.

The 52-year-old, who said his young child had not spoken to him in two years, added: “I just don’t want this to happen to the next people.”

Both men said the serving of the letters, one in the workplace and one at home, took them by surprise and caused them anxiety.

The letters, seen by the Gazette, appear to be a variation on the same document with the Centre’s letterhead.

Each says their behaviour to the recipient’s former partner caused them to “genuinely fear for their safety”, injuring emotional wellbeing and inflicting distress.

Both were put on notice that contacting their exes “by any means”, or attending their property, could trigger a call for police “immediately to restore peace”.

It added: “Should you, after receipt of this notice, attend our client’s property, this will constitute trespassing and you will be arrested.”

Both men denied being physically violent or threatening their former partners.

They said the assumption of threat and references to the Stalking Act and Domestic Violence Protection Orders Act constituted defamation.

The 52-year-old said he responded a month later with a letter from the firm Cox Hallett Wilkinson, charging the allegations threatened his standing in the community and would be followed by legal action if they continued.

The response notes that “unusually for this type of summary offences letter, no details are provided by any act … that would have caused any fear, injury or distress”.

“We share our client’s concern that this letter serves to defame his reputation without any justification or evidence put forward at all.”

The man said men generally lacked resources of their own to turn to when accused.

“All we have is talking to your mate on a bar stool – and, if you go to church, it’s your pastor or your deacon,” he said. “That’s your counsellor.”

He said of the CAA: “They need to do better. They need to investigate what they’ve been told before they write something like this.”

The second man, a 46-year-old, recalled “shock” in 2020 when the letter was served on him at home. “I refer to it as a registered threat,” he added.

He said the stress of receiving a letter could act as a “trigger event” for an emotionally unstable person.

“If I had been the person they said I was, it could have escalated.”

He added that the letter’s threat of arrest if he attended his ex-girlfriend’s property contravened a court order allowing him regular access to his child.

Ms Shiell responded that if a letter went against court order, the recipient “would have taken it to the court to query it, and the court would have advised that person directly that the court order supersedes all documents”.

“So if this was not the case, then it would appear that what is being said to you is clearly not the full truth.”

Ms Shiell said the letters were issued on behalf of clients, adding: “We don’t just send them to men, as men have come to us and asked us to send to women, or men to men or woman to woman.”

She added: “The same people that are complaining about this letter can have it sent on their behalf to someone who they do not want contact with.

“So the real question is, ‘why would someone want contact with a person who does not want contact with them?’.”