In Desperate Plea, Man Defaces Queen Elizabeth's Portrait

The man charged wanted help reuniting with his children

June 13, 2013 — -- The queen's official Diamond Jubilee portrait was defaced with spray paint today by a "desperate father" who campaigners say was wrongly separated from his two daughters and was "trying to appeal to the queen for help."

Forty-one-year-old Tim Haries used turquoise paint to spray the word "help" across the queen's portrait in Westminster Abbey, the site of her coronation almost exactly 60 years ago, when he was tackled by security guards, according to police and the campaign group Fathers4Justice.

Haries was arrested on suspicion of criminal damage, police said. Westminster Abbey said it would assess the damage to the painting, which was commissioned for the Diamond Jubilee last year and shows a contemplative Queen Elizabeth II in the abbey, wearing her state dress and a crimson velvet robe of state.

Fathers 4 Justice denied Haries acted on the group's behalf, but identified Haries as a member and portrayed him as representative of a society full of fathers improperly kept away from their children by family courts.

"Where do you go when your government isn't listening to you and the courts aren't listening to you?" asked Fathers4Justice head Nadine O'Connor, who passionately defended Davis to ABC News. "This is a pretty desperate call to the one person who's left -- the queen. Her portrait hangs in the courts and this is her government."

Last weekend, Haries changed his Facebook profile photo to his two daughters' faces on a missing poster. "Believed to have been abducted by there [sic] mother over 3 and a half years ago with the full support of the family courts," reads the text next to their photos. "Your support in re-uniting these kittens with there [sic] father would be greatly appreciated."

Many people on Facebook and Twitter displayed horror at Haries' action, describing him as a "vandal" or a "sicko." One English Twitter user asked Fathers4Justice to expel Haries for "disgusting behavior."

Lord Harris, who purchased the portrait for the abbey, lambasted Haries, telling the BBC, "To take it out on [the queen] is ridiculous."

But O'Connor portrayed Haries as a hero, acting along the same lines as the suffragettes, the women who broke the law 100 years ago in order to win the right to vote.

"We are campaigning, as the suffragettes did, for equality," O'Connor argued. "It's a beautiful painting, but let's get things in perspective here. Yes, he has defaced the painting. But that can be repaired. The family courts in this country are destroying lives. If we have the country in uproar over a defaced picture, that says a lot about the country where 3.8 million children don't have fathers. If we are more upset about the portrait than about the state of fathers in this country, this is a society I don't want my children growing up in."

This isn't the first time that members of Fathers4Justice have broken the law in order to advocate for men separated from their children. In 2004 and 2005, members hurled packages of flour in parliament at then Prime Minister Tony Blair and climbed Buckingham Palace and the Foreign Office while dressed in superhero costumes.

The oil portrait is 9 by 11 feet and was painted by Australian artist Ralph Heimans, who says he wanted to capture "a sense of tenderness and soulfulness" but also depict the Queen's "inner strength." Heimans sat with the queen at Buckingham Palace, but the portrait portrays her standing on the same spot in the abbey where every English monarch has been crowned since the 13th century.

It had gone on display only last month in the Sacrarium of Westminster Abbey, also known as the Coronation Theatre. It was supposed to remain open to the public until September.

"Until work can be done to remedy the damage it will -- very regrettably -- not be possible to have the painting on public view," Westminster Abbey said in a statement.