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PhotoTrenton Oldfield at ‘Refusing to accept one’s place’ Salon TRANSEUROPA festival 2010

On 19 October 2012 Trenton Oldfield was sentenced at Isleworth Crown Court for his protest at the Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race. He was given 6 months custodial sentence for his direct action against government cuts and a culture of elitism in the UK. This statement, written together with Defend The Right To Protest, calls for an end to the criminalisation of protest.

Having collaborated with Trenton and his This is Not a Gateway during the Transeuropa Festival, European Alternatives would like to show its solidarity with a colleague who is always an extremely thoughtful, altruistic, and committed partner.

On the 7th of April 2012, Trenton Oldfield undertook a direct-action protest at the Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race. The aim of his protest was to focus attention on the long-standing and entirely unjust inequalities in British society that are being severely exacerbated by government cuts and reductions in civil liberties. Trenton chose the Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race because it is a symbol of class, privilege and elitism in Britain.

An astonishing 70% of the cabinet in the current government are Oxford or Cambridge graduates. This government is protecting the privileges of the wealthy while cutting the essential necessities of the majority and the poor and reducing people’s rights and freedoms. In the three days before Trenton’s protest, the coalition government (1) received royal assent for its bill to privatise the NHS, (2) introduced the Communications Data Bill to legalise surveillance of all digital communications of UK subjects, and (3) called on people to ‘shop their neighbours’ if they suspected they might protest at the 2012 Olympic Games.

Trenton’s protest aimed at drawing attention to these injustices. He swam into the course of the boat race. The race was halted and restarted 25 minutes later. The action was seen by an international audience but it affected just 18 rowers and a handful of event organisers on a closed river, on a long weekend. The direct-action protest was wholly consistent with Trenton’s decade+ work in London on addressing this city’s unnecessary poverty and inequalities. The audience for the free event experienced a minor delay of 25 minutes. The BBC coverage ended at its pre-scheduled time-slot. Not a single complaint was received from the public by either the Metropolitan police or the BBC.

Trenton was initially charged with Section 5 of the ‘public order act’. Hansard reports reveal that government ministers asked the police commissioner to increase the charge so that a custodial sentence could be achieved. On the morning of his first court appearance (23 April 2012) Trenton’s charge was significantly increased via the ancient common law charge of ‘public nuisance’ under which conviction can result in life in prison. On the 26 September 2012 Trenton was found guilty of causing ‘public nuisance’ for undertaking his protest.

The recent conviction and sentencing of Russian feminist rock collective Pussy Riot to two years in prison for their protest was rightly met with shock and anger for the lack of tolerance towards dissent under Putin. The very same lack of tolerance towards dissent seems to be happening in Britain as Trenton waits for sentencing on the 19th October 2012.

Defend the Right to Protest extend our solidarity to Trenton and wholeheartedly believe that he should not have faced criminal charges for exercising his right to protest. We are concerned about the change in the original charge seemingly due to political and media pressure. To us it is clear that this protest against inequality and elitism does not warrant a custodial sentence, least of all possibly years in prison. Defend the Right to Protest are also alarmed that this charge might be levied against protesters in the future. The only motive we can see for the CPS selecting this outdated legislation is that it offers courts the chance to hand down sentences up to life in prison.

After Wednesday’s verdict Trenton made the following statement:

“As inequalities increase in Britain and across much of the world, so does the criminalisation of protest; my solidarity is with everyone everywhere working towards more equitable societies.”

We urge an end to this wholly inappropriate over-punishment of Trenton and the criminalisation of protest. To add your name to this list, please email or join this FB page.