The boat race protester’s prison notebook

30 March 2013

If the weather had been this foul at the time of the last Oxford-Cambridge boat race, I might not have found myself in the middle of the River Thames, or served a six-month prison sentence in HMP Wormwood Scrubs. My plan, then, was to make a protest against inequalities in British society, government cuts, reductions in civil liberties and a culture of elitism. Not all of it, I admit, I had time to articulate in the water. At first, I was charged under the Public Order Act, which meant that the maximum penalty would have been a fine, but after various exhortations — including from a Tory MP, Michael Ellis — I was convicted under the Public Nuisance law and had a spell inside. I emerged a changed man, though not because I’d changed my views. I found out I was going to be a father.

Many convicts will know how odd it is to hear life-changing news from ‘the outside’ over a telephone. My wife rang to tell me she was pregnant — and after three minutes the prison telephone system automatically cut her off. But at least I had something upbeat to speak with my fellow prisoners about. There is warmth, solidarity and support between prisoners. Perhaps my convict heritage — my Australian ‘criminal genes’ — prepared me well for incarceration, but I survived. Most prisoners have a keen sense of humour. Hardly a day went by without a few brilliant swimming jokes at my expense.

As one con to another, I would advise Chris Huhne that he has made a profound mistake requesting to be isolated on a special wing in HMP Wandsworth and asking his fellow millionaire Nick Clegg to get him on agreeable gardening leave in HMP Leyhill, Gloucester. Most prisoners aren’t even evaluated for which category prison they will be relocated to, let alone get moved within the same timeframe. I’ve never met Chris Huhne but it seems to me that his lack of joie de vivre and sense of humour, while perfect for coalition government, will be a real handicap in prison. There, both are essential. I suspect Mr Huhne believes he isn’t like the other prisoners. The law, at least, disagrees. And so would the other prisoners, who can smell elitism a mile away.

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When I was arrested, Rod Liddle pointed his finger to the course I studied at the LSE — contemporary urbanism — and suggested that my fellow students ought to be arrested ‘as a sensible preventative measure’. A little harsh, in my opinion, but he is right to criticise what I call the ‘urban industry’, including places like the LSE. They promise so much in terms of improving people’s increasingly urbanised lives and eradicating poverty. And yet they disappoint and contradict. Take, for example, the decision of UCL to demolish a housing estate in order to build a new campus in east London — for the study of social inequality, no doubt!

I have been ‘out’ now for three months and without a tag for seven weeks. But prison remains part of my life. On sunny or windy days, it’s particularly hard not to think of the other guys still inside. The slower pace of a Sunday outside reminds me of the almost complete silence and lack of movement in HMP Wormwood Scrubs on any weekend. You might not even leave your cell, except to collect a meal. I filled the hours by writing a book, which will go on sale in June — my attempt to pay off the money I borrowed for the court costs. It’s not so much a diary as a guide to coping with the reality of prison. My target readership? The way things are going, anyone seeking a career in politics or journalism. At a time when you can be arrested for posting the wrong picture on your Facebook page, protest is a very dangerous line of work in England.

Throughout the week, via lawyers, I have received some elegantly crafted emails from Scotland Yard’s Liaison Gateway Team (‘a small unit of officers dedicated to facilitating peaceful protest’). They ask how they can help me organise a protest at the university boat race this year. Their ‘total policing’ sometimes includes pre-emptive arrests. To add to this bizarreness, two extremely tall policemen darkened my kitchen to hand-deliver a similarly helpful letter in which they ‘strongly recommend you work with us to ensure your protest is a success’. They didn’t elaborate, but I can only assume they’re putting me in touch with the diving squad. Who says there’s never a policeman around when you need one?

Odd as it may sound to some, I don’t have regrets. My aim was to raise questions and provoke debate about the two-tier system shaping Britain, the criminalisation of dissent and the erosion of civil liberties. But I shan’t be at this year’s race, in spite of the Metropolitan Police’s kind offer — I’ll probably have a ramble across the Cotswolds instead.

Listen to Trenton Oldfield debating Douglas Murray on the politics of protesting (at 14:40)

The Queen vs Trenton Oldfield will be published by Myrdle Court Press.

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Show comments
  • Jackthesmilingblack

    Seek your fortune in the colonies, Trenton. Hope the criminal record isn’t too much of a liability, but you can always lie about your age. So get into character as an English gentleman, then hate it and leave it. Britain, that is. Because things can only get worse.
    Jack, Japan Alps

    • Guest

      The words “gentleman” and “esquire” in England are either primary and subsidiary titles bestowed or recognised by Her Majesty the Queen. You are not a “gentleman” if your name is not on Debrett’s, the London Gazette, or the Rolls of the College of Arms and Heralds. There is nothing very “generic” or “getting into [the] character” about it.

      • Jackthesmilingblack

        Hard luck, guys. According to the Gospel of Jock the Nutter, you can’t b English gentlemen.

        • Guest

          There are no such thing—except as a cartoonish caricature by foreigners.

  • Jackthesmilingblack

    Attention Spectator editors:
    Guys, meet Mad Jock MacDonald: The cyber stalker that for years has dogged me from the Daily Telegraph to the Independent, with a few stops between. He simply disagrees to be disagreeable and objects to be objectionable. Further, he has claimed in print, not once but at least 100 times that I am not British, but Japanese. And this without a shred of evidence and with all indicators to the contrary. As a BNP member and nationalist zealot, for him no one that resides abroad of their own volition can possibly be British. So to in any sense to criticize Britain causes him to make the most outlandish accusations. This form of psychosis is more common than you might suppose, although in his case it takes an extreme form. As example, that I was a guard at a Japanese PoW camp. Must have been a previous existence. Sometimes he claims I have stolen the identity of a US Marine non-commissioned officer serving in Japan. Not simply untrue, but unbelievably stupid. 
 The joke is that he picks up on the slightest typing error as proof positive that I am not British. When in fact as you know, it indicates the precise opposite.
    Spectator, by providing this demented soul with a forum, you are in effect exacerbating his mental health problems. 
 If you doubt what I say, the Independent blog pages will more than confirm this. He usually blogs under “SE9”, “Guest” or “Kaira”, although the picture used is that of Bill Hayden. John leCarre fans with immediately grasp this.
    I see a story here: “Jack comes in from the cold”. So please advise when a Spectator journalist will next be in the Tokyo Press Club.
    Jack, Japan Alps

    • Guest

      You are obviously unsound and unbalanced.

      • Jackthesmilingblack

        So you don’t deny it then?

        • Guest

          Absolutely, positively barking!

          • Jackthesmilingblack

            You’re a lying git, Jonathon MacDonald. What are you?

          • Guest

            You have got a nerve for accusing others of lying, mate! You, a Japanese, have been all over the Internet for the last nine years under various “troll names” pretending to be a 30-year-long British expatriate in Japan!

  • darwins beard

    Trenton Oldfield is a conspiracy theorist (the Illuminati/global elite type) and was privately educated, meaning his “war on elitism” is somewhat hypocritical at best who is vehemently anti-democratic and thinks he is the epicenter of a global movement the represents people worldwide, what he is doing writing for the speccie is beyond me, at least David Icke is worth a read for comedy value.

    Go and put your tin foil hat on Trenton and leave journalism for the pros, there’s a good lad

    • Guest

      Unfortunately, conspiracy theorists of most kinds always get to attract their fellow loons, and drawing them out of the woodwork.

  • Adam Ach

    Quite ridiculous comments by Trenton Oldfield; democracy is just mob rule; two wolves and lamb voting on what to have for lunch. ‘The LSE should be embarrased that somebody with such dumb views graduated from there’: indeed it should.

    • Guest

      Why? The LSE has been for quite a long time a “far-left” subversive organisation, much like SOAS and many of the other London institutions.

  • Guest

    Is “Jackthesmilingblack” really Trenton Oldfield in disguise?

    • Jackthesmilingblack

      Is Jock McNutter really Trenton’s evil twin brother?

      • Guest

        And are you really just a tiresome, troublesome and meddlesome foreigner, who doesn’t even live in this Country?

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