Kirk minister jailed for refusing to let children visit their killer father demands change to parental access laws

Ms Hart cannot be pictured for legal reasons

A KIRK minister who was jailed after her children refused to visit their killer father will this week demand MSPs change parental access laws.

The Reverend Tracy Hart was controversially imprisoned by a sheriff who ruled she flouted a court order which allowed her estranged husband visitation rights to their two children at a family centre.

The Reverend Ms Hart – who cannot be pictured for legal reasons relating to child identity – told Sheriff Gregor Murray that the visits were having a detrimental effect on their mental and physical wellbeing.

She also told him the children did not wish to have contact with their father.

But the Forfar sheriff jailed her for contempt of court 18 months ago and she served eight days of a one-year sentence before being released and cleared on appeal amid a public outcry.

On Thursday, the clergywoman will address the Scottish Parliament’s public petitions committee, in the hope of securing new laws to stop violent offenders automatically qualifying for child access.

She said: “Women are urged to leave violent partners to safeguard children, but the system contradicts this by routinely ignoring their wishes.”

The Reverend Ms Hart married in 2007 and knew her husband had served 11 years for a 1992 murder which he claimed had been a “one-punch tragedy”.

But she left him in 2009 after discovering that the murder had actually been much more brutal and he had other convictions for violence.

A court then ordered he be given access to his children at a contact centre.

But when they refused to interact with their father, the West Lothian Minister landed in court.

The Reverend Ms Hart said: “What happened was a nightmare but I have discovered I am not unique.

“Being compelled to meet their father was deeply distressing for my children.

“My elder child would be physically sick and we had psychiatric reports outlining how distressing it was.

“But the default position of the courts seems to be that contact is in the best interests of the child, even when they wish no contact.

“Children are routinely denied the right to a view. We need legislation to take better account of their wishes.”

The Reverend Ms Hart will also raise concerns over the lack of security at Scotland’s 42 contact centres run by the charity Relationships Scotland at a cost of £1.5m to the Government.

The Reverend Ms Hart added: “Some are in tenements with no easy escape if something ‘kicks off’ and that is worrying. There should at least be a separate safe room.”

She will also raise the issue of a lack of internal CCTV, panic alarms and security personnel.

Her campaign for new rules and her concerns over security are supported by her MSP, Neil Findlay.

He was “astonished” the centres were not required to have such facilities.

But when he asked the Scottish Government what was appropriate for a contact centre, he was told it should have an exit door with a bell, windows with locks and staff monitoring.

He said: “This throws up serious questions about the way in which these centres are run.

“The level of training and apparently lax rules are real issues which need to be addressed.”