|Trenton with wife Deepa
London, Sept. 27: The man who disrupted the Oxford-Cambridge Boat Race this year was yesterday found guilty of “causing a public nuisance” but will not know till October 19 if he is going to jail.
After the verdict at a London court, Trenton Oldfield, a 36-year-old Australian who settled in Britain in 2001, went to the public gallery to hug his wife Deepa Naik.
It was Deepa’s tweet that first identified Oldfield as the man who had swum right into the path of the Oxford and Cambridge boats which were slicing through the water at great speed.
She had been described as Oldfield’s “girlfriend” or “partner” when the story broke. At some point since then, the couple have got married.
The race on April 7, the 158th on record, was immediately halted by umpires who feared the man in the water was in danger of being seriously injured or even killed.
But Oldfield justified his gesture by claiming he was protesting against inequality: he saw the Oxbridge Boat Race as a prime example of “elitism”.
He said he had no regrets and denied he could have been hurt by the boats. “Having grown up in Australia,” he said, he was well used to avoiding surfboards, boats, rocks and coral while swimming.
Judge Anne Molyneux, however, warned that all options were open, including jail. She recognised this was Oldfield’s first offence and that five people had told the court he was a man of good character.
The two boats were side by side when the race was halted after 10 minutes and 30 seconds. It was generally assumed that the bends favoured Oxford for the rest of the race.
When the race resumed 31 minutes after the interruption, Cambridge won easily after an Oxford oar snapped in a clash.
A livid Oxford boat club president, Karl Hudspith, tweeted: “To Trenton Oldfiled (sic); my team went through seven months of hell, this was the culmination of our careers and you took it from us.”
Perhaps ironically, considering his anti-Oxbridge rant, Oldfield was defended with great eloquence by his counsel, Benjamin Newton, listed by his chambers as being an Oxford man.
“It was an act of protest, an anguished shout in the dark,” Newton commented. He said more than an extra million viewers joined the coverage because of Oldfield’s headline-making effort.
“As a spectacle, far from obstructing the rights of the public, it created a talking point at a sporting event without affecting the outcome,” he added. “The worst you could say about him is that he is misguided.”
For the prosecution, Louis Mably told jurors the contest was spoiled for spectators watching from the banks of the Thames or live on the BBC, not to mention the two university rowing teams.
Oldfield, who has worked heavily in social projects, argued during the trial: “(The Boat Race is) a symbol of a lot of issues in Britain around class; 70 per cent of government pushing through very significant cuts are Oxford or Cambridge graduates.... Lots of people thought it (his protest) made it the most exciting Boat Race ever.”
Oldfield, who is out on bail, made a brief statement to reporters after the verdict: “As inequality increases across Britain and much of the world, so does the criminalisation of protest. My solidarity is with everyone working towards more equitable societies everywhere.”