One in Ten Men Could Be Victims of Paternity Fraud. I'm Fighting for Them.Not the Money; 1.CHILDHOOD FUN: Elspeth, Left, and Her Sister India Enjoy a Day out at the Fair 2.DECEIT: Lydia Webb Today with Her Daughter Elspeth, Now 22. Lydia Kept the Identity of Elspeth's Father Secret from Her Husband 3.DETERMINED: Mark Webb Is Taking His Case to the European Court of Human Rights. Left: How We Told Lydia's Story Last Week

Article excerpt

Byline: Elizabeth Sanderson

THERE was never going to be a good time. But when the truth finally emerged, it couldn't have been at a more inopportune moment. Mark Webb was driving to work at eight in the morning when his wife Lydia rang. 'I was in the fast lane of the M4 heading towards Reading,' he recalls.

'I picked up the call on the hands-free and said, "Hi, what's the problem?" because Lydia wouldn't normally call so early. She said, "I've got something I need to tell you. You're not the father of Elspeth.

Dave Mottram is." ' It was a shattering revelation and one that set in motion an extraordinary chain of events. For what might have been a painful but private matter became very public when Mark took his now ex-wife and her lover to court in a bid to claim compensation for the 17 years he had spent bringing up Elspeth, believing her to be his daughter.

Mark's claim failed and ten days ago the Court of Appeal refused him permission to appeal against the ruling. Since then the 'paternity fraud' case has sparked a passionate debate about the rights of fathers. In last week's Mail on Sunday, Lydia defended her actions while Mr Mottram has also had his say, claiming he did not know that

Elspeth was his daughter. Yet throughout, and for all the conjecture and comment, Mark remained silent.

Now, in an exclusive interview, the 47-year-old production manager for an engineering company explains why he took the controversial and much-criticised decision to try to recoup the money he had spent bringing up Elspeth.

He tells how he had always believed in his marriage and how Lydia's secret and the subsequent court case have torn apart his relationship with Elspeth and another daughter, India. He also reveals that for him, at least, the battle is not over, as he intends to take his case to the European Court of Human Rights.

Clean-cut and precise, with closely shorn hair and inky-black eyes, Mark is not given to outward displays of emotion.

Yet even now, seven years after that phone call, he still finds the enormity of the situation difficult to take in.

'I wonder every day how anyone could keep this to themselves for 17 years,' he says. 'It must eat away at you. Up until Lydia's call, I had no idea that Elspeth might not be mine. I was stunned. People say my pride's been hurt, but it's beyond pride. I suppose my dignity has been damaged more than anything else.

'I'd always been proud of all our three girls and their achievements. And even though I believe in nurture, not nature, it's still hard to think that people might look on it differently - that maybe Elspeth's the girl she is because she's her "real" father's daughter.

'I loved Elspeth and I still do. When you're a dad, and you do a dad's job properly, there's nothing that can shake you into feeling differently about a child.'

AND HE insists: 'I know people have criticised me and they don't like the fact that money is involved. But it's not just about money. It's about something much bigger than that.

Exactly what rights do you have as a dad? It's a very serious, complex, frightening issue.

'Lord Justice Thorpe said the case raised very interesting sociological points. I don't think interesting is the right word, quite frankly. Studying Roman sewage systems is interesting, if that's what you're into.

'This is not just interesting. It's something that's going to have a huge effect on people's lives over the next couple of decades. I love my children and I see what they've gone through and this could happen to another family tomorrow unless we change things.'

In order to understand the devastation this case has caused, it is necessary to go back to the beginning. Mark and Lydia first met 20 years ago in Devizes, Wiltshire, the market town where they grew up. He was the son of a painter and decorator, she the daughter of a tyre fitter and secretary. …