The Queen Vs Trenton Oldfield

I first came across Trenton Oldfield on the web, where I read in 2008 about the ‘This is Not A Gateway‘ (TINAG) festival he had inaugurated together with his partner Deepa Naik. The first was held in Dalston and included over 40 events related to the urban environment including contributions from several photographers and film makers I’d met. The following year it moved to Spitalfields and I was one of the many who presented work at Hanbury St, presenting together with Paul Baldesare work from our then current show Taken in London and taking part in the discussions.

I’ve long had an interest in urban affairs, dating back to before I was a photographer in the 1960s, and this is reflected in some aspects of my work which you can see particularly on the ‘Urban Landscapes‘ web site and also in some of my self-published books. The first of these, written when I was aksed to contribute to a now defunct web site in 2005 but only published as a book after I’d exhibited it at the London International Documentary Festival in 2010 is the only of my books to date to have a little fictional story, setting out a series of pictures from my walks around north-east London in 1989 as having been taken in my wanderings with the legendary (and entirely fictional) author, Upton Trent. When I met Trenton a few years after writing this, his name immediately made me think of this work.

But most people will know Trenton as the man whose protest against the elitist nature of British society brought the annual rowing race between crews representing our most privileged universities to a halt. Our judicial system threw the book at him, not only giving him six months in jail, but making him pay for the privilege of being tried and found guilty, doubtless a process carried out with the involvement of many who had enjoyed a privileged education at Oxford or Cambridge.

Many – even some who thought his action wrong-headed and his ideas crazy – felt that his punishment was unduly harsh for a peaceful direct action, and there was more astonished indignation when it was learnt that Teresea May wants to deport him. As Rupert Myers commented in The Independent,  ‘the UK government is risking a cause celebre with a 21-century deportation‘. In Tories bring back Penal Transportation? here on >Re:PHOTO I wrote about the case, asking people to sign the petitions to stop the deportation on This Is Not a Gateway, and another at If you haven’t yet done so, please consider signing them now.

But there is something more you can do. I’ve just got a copy of The Queen Vs Trenton Oldfield: A Prison Diary, published by the Myrdle Court Press (MCP) which he and his partner founded to advance the ideas of emerging urbanists and which has brought out three volumes of ‘Critical Cities‘. The book is more than the title suggests, and as it says on the site, “challenges many preconceived ideas held about prisoners and prisons. It offers an insightful critique of the prison industrial complex at the the outset of the privatisation of prisons in Britain. Importantly, it also considers the criminalisation of dissent and reductions in civil liberties.” It is available at bookshops for £12.99 or you can buy it direct online, (£2 postage to Europe including the UK and £3 worldwide) and there are some reviews on the MCP web site.

All the proceeds from the sale of the book go towards the payment of the court costs of £750, awarded against him in an unusual decision by Judge Anne Molyneux at Isleworth Crown Court. I’ve yet to finish the book, but it does seem a very interesting read for all those concerned with civil liberties and our prison system. I’m thinking of getting a second copy to give as a Christmas present too.

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