End the Criminalisation of Protest: The Case of Trenton Oldfield

by | 19 Oct 2012

This morning (19 October 2012) Trenton Oldfield will be sentenced at Isleworth Crown Court for his protest at the Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race. He faces a potential custodial sentence for his direct action against government cuts and a culture of elitism in the UK. This statement was written, together with Defend The Right To Protest  calls for an end to the criminalisation of protest. Select list of signatories below. Full list here.


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 (http://www.defendtherighttoprotest.org/) 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 (http://www.defendtherighttoprotest.org/) 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 his original 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.

Hannah Dee, Chair, Defend the Right to Protest

John Carlos, 1968 Olympics Black Power salute

Adbusters, CultureJammers

Pragna Patel, Southall Black Sisters

David Burgess, 2003 ‘No War’ Sydney Opera House

Danny Dorling, author Inequalities: Why Social Inequalities Persist

Gloria Morrison, Joint Enterprise Not Guilty By Association

John Pilger, journalist and author The Rulers of the World

Mai Pal, Anti-capitalist Initiative

Marc McGowan, Artist Taxi Driver

Fanny Malinen and Steve Rushton, Bread and Circuses

David Wearing, Department of Development Studies, SOAS

Caroline Day, Save Leyton Marshes

Dan Hind, author The Return of the Public

Dave Zirin, sports writer, activist, author Bad Sports: A People’s History of Sports

Illan Wall, Critical Legal Thinking

John Pilger, journalist and author The Rulers of the World

Mike Wells, Games Monitor

Kris O’Donnell, Occupy London

Les Levidow, Campaign Against Criminalising Communities

Marc Perelman, author Barbaric Sport: A Global Plague

Mike Davis, author Evil Paradises: Dreamworlds of Neoliberalism

Nadine O’Connor, Campaign director Fathers 4 Justice

Pauline van Mourik Broekman, Director Mute Publishing

Simon Hardy, Anti-capitalist Initiative


Stefan Dickers, Bishopsgate Institute

Simon Worthington, Co-publisher Mute

To add your name to this list, please email naik_d@hotmail.com / Full list here.

Deepa Naik (This Is Not A Gateway)

& Defend The Right To Protest


Deepa Naik

Coordinators@thisisnotagateway.net / naik_d@hotmail.com


Defend The Right To Protest



1 Comment

  1. Hi Deepa,
    I’d like to add my name to the list condemning the criminalization of peaceful protest.
    Catherine Harty (Socialist Party Activist Ireland/artist) (The email address is not working for me).


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