Boat race protester welcomes u-turn

Herald Series: Boat Race protester Trenton Oldfield Boat Race protester Trenton Oldfield

An Australian activist who risked deportation for disrupting last year's Oxford v Cambridge Boat Race has said he is delighted he was able to convince an immigration judge to let him stay in the country.

Trenton Oldfield, 37, who has lived in the UK for 10 years, earlier this year had his application for a spousal visa refused after serving six months in prison for the stunt.

The Home Office deemed Mr Oldfield's presence in the country was "undesirable" given his April 2012 disruption of the famous sporting event to protest against what he described as "entrenched elitism" in the UK.

But during an appeal hearing at the Asylum and Immigration Tribunal in Islington today, immigration judge Kevin Moore said he intended to allow Mr Oldfield's appeal.

It will take up to 10 days for the decision to become official. The activist was greeted by supporters offering hugs and congratulations when the preliminary decision was made.

Mr Oldfield told reporters outside the appeal he was glad it was finally over.

"I'm delighted to be able to get back to my work and spend time with my family," he said.

He thanked his supporters, but said the public interest surrounding the case should highlight the problems surrounding deportation threats.

"What I would like to say is this happens every single day in this building to all sorts of people and we need to start paying attention to these people who are experiencing what can be quite a violent experience of having the state come down on you," he said.

"Deportation is an old ideal and it's from another time - 1,000 years ago.

"We need to rethink that and the media's attention needs to be on not me any more, but the people who are going in and out of this building and that is where the real issues are."

Mr Oldfield's application relied partly on his claim that Australia was a racist country and his British born wife Deepa Naik, who is of Indian descent, and his five-month-old daughter would be discriminated against if they were forced to move back with him.

"Australia to Deepa... is a particularly racist country," he said.

"There are particularly racist attacks on people of Indian descent."

Mr Oldfield went on to say while most of it was "water cooler" or unintentional racism, some Indians in Australia had been burned and physically assaulted.

"I don't think I could put either Deepa or my child through that," he said.

Mr Oldfield told the tribunal his inspiration for the stunt came while he was looking after his wife's father, who was dying from cancer.

"I think I was vulnerable in terms of realising how short life can be," an emotional Mr Oldfield sobbed.

"I saw poverty and I saw the laws the Government were passing that were going to make life substantially harder.

"I think I was very emotional.

"When you go around London, you can see the pockets of deprivation that still exist."

Mr Oldfield said he could not bear to be separated from his wife, which was the hardest thing for him during his prison term.

He said his wife had never been to Australia and had no interest in doing so.

"Meeting Deepa was like meeting the person you'd always been searching for," he said. "We're muses for each other, but also our strongest critics.

"Everything we do is together.

"Every single part of our life is entangled together."

Mr Oldfield said he worked with his wife in not-for-profit organisations and various charities.

He rejected the Home Office's ruling he was "undesirable" in the UK, saying he had worked to improve peoples' lives since arriving.

"I fell in love with London within two hours of arriving," he said. "There was room for people like me... who were interested in justice, interested in fairness."

Mr Oldfield said he regretted many aspects of his protest, particularly the impact it had on his family and he would not be repeating his actions.

Ms Naik, who had to leave the hearing at times to comfort the couple's crying daughter, later told the tribunal she had no idea Mr Oldfield was going to conduct the protest.

But she said she understood why her husband took the drastic step after seeing inequality and wanting to act.

"When Trenton swam in the Thames, he had no idea at the time the potential consequence would be a prison sentence," she said.

"It is the first and only time Trenton has done a protest like this."

Ms Naik said she did not want to think what would happen if Mr Oldfield was deported.

"It's something I don't want to fathom," she said. "It would mean the destruction of everything we've ever worked on."

Ms Naik said she did not want to go to to Australia because she did not have any family or support networks there.

She said even if she did want to go, Australia's strict immigration laws would mean there would be a forced separation between Mr Oldfield and his family.

There were 23 people at the tribunal willing to give positive evidence in favour of Mr Oldfield.

However, the judge only heard from a few, including an Oxford professor who said Mr Oldfield's work to help end inequality was a benefit to British society.

The court was also handed a petition with signatures from 265 Cambridge and Oxford staff and students who did not want Mr Oldfield to be deported.

Darren Morley, representing the Home Office, said although Mr Oldfield did have some desirable characteristics, he still broke the law.

"The appellant was not trying to live within the laws of a country that welcomed him and helped him build a life here," he said.

But Stephanie Harrison QC, for Mr Oldfield, argued her client's good work in the community outweighed the one protest incident, which he has vowed never to repeat.

She said the protest only caused minimal disruption to the race, which was able to get under way again within 25 minutes.

"He has been trying... to make a difference to people's lives who are on the rough end of society," she said.

"He should not be doubly punished."

Judge Moore agreed, saying he thought Mr Oldfield was of good character.

"It would be my intention to allow the appeal," he said to sighs of relief from Mr Oldfield and his supporters.

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