BIRTHDAY CARD ARREST THREAT
GRANDPARENTS are facing possible arrest for sending their grandchildren birthday cards and gifts, Bristol campaigners say.
Jane Jackson, of Bristol Grandparents Support Group, says police are being called to deal with claims of "harassment" made after grandparents try to stay in touch with their grandchildren after family conflicts.
Mrs Jackson, of Westbury Park, said she understood that harassment could be a problem but the situation is leaving many grandparents depressed and broken-hearted, even though they are not trying to meet up with the child.
She is calling for a consistent national policy to guide police in dealing with such incidents, while her local MP says children's rights of access to their grandparents should be on the political agenda.
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Mrs Jackson said: "I am hearing of cases where grandparents leave a present on the doorstep and the next thing that happens is the police turn up. They are living in fear of officers coming round, marching them down to the cells and quizzing them like criminals.
"These desperate people just want their grandchildren to know that they have not been forgotten. Some of them never get over the distress and I know that some are suicidal.
"Grandparents seem to have no rights at all. It needs mentioning, of course, that if a complaint is made, the complainant is the parent – it is not the grandchild who is making a complaint. If the present and card is for the grandchild, what right does a parent have to deny them that choice of a gift?"
One grandfather from Bristol, who asked not to be named, told the Post that he was fearful of sending any more cards to his grandson for his birthday after being threatened with action.
He said: "It has been three years since I have seen him. My son and daughter-in-law have told me I am not to have anything to do with him at all.
"When it was his birthday last year, I sent him a birthday card and present, which was returned. Shortly afterwards I received a letter from a solicitor stating that I was not to send cards or presents again – if I did the parents would make an allegation of harassment.
"I find it difficult to find the words to express my disbelief and heartbreak that this has happened.
"My grandson was so precious to me and I don't know how to put this right. It is breaking my heart – sometimes I wonder what is the point of going on?
"I know things have changed but why is it harassment to send a beloved grandchild a birthday or Christmas card?"
Mrs Jackson is concerned that similar cases are being dealt with very differently across the country.
She said: "There is no consistency amongst police forces nationally – some use common sense while others follow policy to the letter."
Bristol North West MP Charlotte Leslie said: "The priority for the police must be the rights and wellbeing of the child, not acting as an enforcer for a dispute between two sets of adults. Of course, real harassment is a very serious issue, but it seems absurd if police time is spent not on tackling stalking and other real harassment, but pursuing well-meaning grandparents who simply want to get a birthday card to their grandchild.
"Relationship breakdowns are nearly always traumatic but in the midst of this it must be the child's welfare that is paramount.
"We should be looking at the child's right to access to both sets of grandparents, not slamming the full force of the criminal justice system down on innocent attempts to express affection for grandchildren."
Mrs Jackson said she believed that the parents of the children involved in such cases were not being harassed in any sense because the grandparents in question only want to give a card or a gift to the child.
A spokesman for Avon and Somerset Police said: "Any incident believed to be harassment and reported to the police will be investigated and assessed on a case-by-case basis."