Support for Trenton Oldfield facing jail for the right to protest

By Mute, 16 October 2012
Image: Trenton's river protest in April 2012

Mute magazine would like to give its support to Trenton Oldfield and his protest that took place back in April 2012, where he disrupted this year's University Boat Race in a protest against elitism.

Trenton has been a long standing neighbour of Mute's in the East End of London, even setting up the community centre where we were based for many years. No person should face the politically motivated abuse of imprisonment for the act of protest in a self-proclaimed democracy. But the injustice is made more bare-faced and idiotic when a person like Trenton -  who has been dedicated to people, community and the improvement of public resources - is prosecuted under a law which looks to uphold and protect the rights of 'The Public', in this case to watch a boat race.

On Friday October 19th the court in Isleworth, West London, hands down a sentence to Trenton under a law that can lead to life imprisonment.

Below is a letter of support for Trenton and an invitation to Isleworth this Friday to stand up for the right to protest.

Facebook support page

If you'd like to sign the letter below please email and we'll add your name to the list of signatures.


The Mute Team





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 longstanding and entirely unjust inequalities in British society that are being severely exacerbated by government cuts. 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. We encourage people to show support for Trenton at the court on the 19th October 2012.

Signed Mute contributors and friends:

Simon Worthington - co-publisher Mute
Anja Marie Kirschner
Alberto Duman
Steve Wright - Monash University
Alberto Toscano - Goldsmiths, University of London
Matthew Fuller - Centre for Cultural Studies, Goldsmiths, University of London
Clemens Apprich - Post-Media Lab, Leuphana University
John Roberts - Prof. Art & Aesthetics, University of Wolverhampton
Dr Nick Thoburn - University of Manchester
Ben Watson
Ben Pritchett
Mira Mattar - Contributing Editor at Mute
Benedict Seymour - Contributing Editor Mute magazine
Josephine Berry Slater - Editor, Mute magazine
Matthew Hyland - Contributing Editor Mute magazine
Marina Vishmidt, Queen Mary, University of London
Dr S.Szczelkun - University of Westminster
Merlin Carpenter
Brian Ashton
Sean Dockray - The Public School
James Leadbitter
Kate Rich
Pauline van Mourik Broekman - Director Mute Publishing
Anthony Iles - Assistant Editor, Mute
Ange Taggart - Artist
Felex Stalder - Professor, Zurich University of the Arts
Brendan Howell
Demetra Kotouza - contributing editor, Mute
Micz Flor - Co-founder Sourcefabric
Bob Stein - institute for the future of the book
Geoff Cox - Aarhus University, Denmark
Sean Burn
Inigo Wilkins
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
Ilan Wall, Critical Legal Thinking
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
Simon Hardy, Anti-capitalist Initiative
Stefan Dickers, Bishopsgate Institute
Jonathan Kemp
Peter Carty Journalist, contributor to the Guardian and the Independent
Stevphen Shukaitis, University of Essex
Joanna Figiel
Peter Suchin
Aindriú Macfehin
Neil McGuire
Jeffrey Andreoni
Gary Hall - Research Professo, Coventry University
Simon Yuill 
Jaya Klara Brekke
Rachel Baker
Denis Postle - author of psyCommons blog
Christoph Laimer - Editor in Chief, dérive - Magazin for Urban Research, Austria
Elke Rauth - Director urbanize! Festival, Vienna, Austria
Magda Tyzlik-Carver, University College Falmouth
Sean Mortimer
Alex Newsham
Fred Horton
Caroline Heron, General Manager, Mute
Kasper Opstrup
Suzan Keen
Sidsel Meineche Hansen
Hestia Peppe
Nihal Yesil
Maija Timonen
Charlotte Maconochie
Yvonne Harder