Boat race protester Trenton Oldfield: I would go back to prison for my beliefs

Trenton Oldfield was jailed for disrupting the university boat race in 2012. He halted the Oxford versus Cambridge race after jumping into the River Thames and swimming between the boats – putting his life at risk. The race had to be restarted after a 30 minute delay. Oldfield was sentenced to six months in jail after being convicted of causing a public nuisance. Now released from prison he tells Yahoo! News why he would do it all over again.

Trenton Oldfield has no regrets about his one-man protest which disrupted last year’s Oxford versus Cambridge boat race and says he’s prepared to return to jail for his cause.

At the time Oldfield, who served his sentence at category B prison Wormwood Scrubs, says his act was a protest against ‘elitism’ in Britain.

Now, following his release from jail, the 37-year-old claims prison life was a ‘positive experience’ for him, he would do it again and has ‘absolutely no regrets’ about his actions.

He says: "In prison there was an incredible solidarity and warmth between prisoners. If you genuinely approach people there’s a constant support network. It’s the complete opposite of the perception made out on television."

Oldfield says he believes so strongly in his cause that 'without a doubt' he is prepared to put himself in a situation where he may get sent back to prison – but acknowledges this conviction is a ‘moral maze’ with his first baby on the way. "I know the people who suffer most when someone is in prison are the families, but it’s a moral maze I’m prepared to confront. I don’t want to go to prison but don’t have the fear which would stop me."

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So what exactly is the cause that Oldfield feels so strongly about and does he believe his river protest was effective in getting his message across?

He says his demonstration was a ‘personal response’ to events which had happened in the week leading up to the boat race, as well as ‘a lifetime of seeing inequality and poverty unnecessarily’.

He was protesting against the Health and Social Care bill gaining Royal Assent, the announcement of the introduction of the Communications bill and the call from Olympics Minister Hugh Robertson for people to shop their neighbours if they knew they were planning to protest during the Olympics. He says the ‘poverty and inequality in Britain needs to be urgently addressed.’

In a blog he wrote for The Spectator, Oldfield acknowledges that he may not have got all his points across from the water but believes his stunt was worthwhile.

He claims that after his protest 500,000 people looked up the term ‘elitism’ on search engines, over 500,000 viewed a statement he posted online and his actions prompted lots of discussion about politics and sport.

He also believes in the ‘guerrilla tactics’ he used in his river demonstration. If he was to strike again he wouldn’t reveal where. He says: "If we want to create ruptures and dissent, we need to be ahead."

Oldfield is calling for the prison system to be abolished and has written a book 'The Queen vs Trenton Oldfield: A Prison Diary' in order to 'demystify prison'.

He says: "Prisons are full of people who have done minor things. It’s the result of the prejudices of police and the judicial level - they end up in prison. It’s a mechanism for creating a criminal class. People who go to prison come out with a criminal record. Haven’t you done your time? People can’t get a job and they’re branded for rest of their lives."

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Oldfield expresses surprise at the media interest generated by his river stunt and says the negative reactions to it haven’t bothered him because he feels very confident about his views. In fact he plans to organise an exhibition of the ‘violent tweets’ about him.

He says: "I never imagined the media storm created would happen. I thought it would be a small story. People said I should have had my head chopped off by the blades (tips of oars). It actually reflects the violence of British culture more than anything. People have been so brutalised for so long, they end up taking their frustrations out on people who put their head above the parapet."

Speaking to Oldfield for the first time, it’s difficult to get a sense of what he’s really like and to understand what drives him.

By his own admission, he grew up in a mainstream middle class family in Australia. His parents were professional people, not particularly involved in politics. He attended a boy’s boarding school until the age of 16 when he left to study at a local college. Later he moved to Britain and studied at the London School of Economics.

Oldfield says he always questioned why he and his family were in Australia as his roots are European. He says: "I thought why are we here? Living in someone else’s country. Taking land away from the indigenous people. I couldn’t ignore that political situation living in a colonial context."

Although a campaigner against 'elitism', some would argue that Oldfield had an 'elitist' upbringing himself. Oldfield insists that is irrelevant. "What matters is what you work on when you graduate. It’s about being aware of your privilege. I’m aware of it as a white middle class male."

He won’t be drawn on what his family in Australia think of his river protest but says: "People who know me, love me, adore me, want to support me. People who know me would suggest I’m a genuine person. I know who I am."

He was criticised by the press for 'smirking' in court as sentence was passed and accused by the judge of being 'prejudiced'.

Judge Molyneux was quoted as saying: "You made your decision to sabotage the race based on the membership or perceived membership of its participants of a group to which you took exception. That is prejudice."

Oldfield says he was laughing as it was the 'most absurd statement'.

"It was hilarious, I was embarrassed for her."

For now, Oldfield is in the process of writing his next book and is more resolute in his beliefs than ever before.

He says: "Prison has made me clearer of mind. More determined."

Watch this space.

The Queen Vs Trenton Oldfield: A Prison Diary is published by Myrdle Court Press and is available now.

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