- Created: Monday, 11 May 2009 19:12
- Written by FRFI
FRFI is deeply saddened by the death on 15 May of Pauline Campbell, who for five years had fought an unrelenting struggle to expose the inhumane treatment of women prisoners. Following the death in 2003 of her 18-year-old daughter Sarah – the youngest of six women who died in Styal that year – Pauline began a campaign of direct action to expose the British prison system’s complete lack of care for vulnerable women. Between April 2004 and April 2008 every time a woman prisoner died, she staged a demonstration outside the prison – 28 demonstrations in all. RCG comrades regularly attended those at Styal, New Hall, Holloway and Durham prisons. Pauline was arrested 15 times and charged five times. The latest charges were recently dropped and we reprint below an article Pauline sent to FRFI just days before her death.
Pauline was completely non-sectarian. She lobbied MPs, spoke to parliamentary committees, emailed journalists, addressed conferences, marched with other relatives of people who had died in custody and demonstrated alongside peace campaigners, communists, anarchists and feminists. She wrote regularly for FRFI, as well as for many other publications.
Eric Allison writes:
I was fortunate to consider Pauline Campbell a close friend. Since her death, I have been inundated with phone calls from people bereft at her passing – from a woman in her late seventies, who joined Pauline on the campaign trail and mourns the loss of a passionate and dedicated leader, to a young ex-prisoner, who viewed her as a surrogate mother. Because, despite her personal grief, Pauline always found room to comfort relatives of others who had died in custody and guide them through the legal minefield that obstructs the search for truth.
Few in the new Ministry of Justice will mourn her. She met the criminal justice system head on and became a constant, sharp thorn in its side. Her direct action in blocking access to the prison she was demonstrating outside created a huge dilemma for the system; should it prosecute her and make her a martyr; or release her without charge, knowing full well that, come the death of another woman prisoner, Pauline would be back, confronting the system at full tilt? The police would often employ dirty tactics, such as keeping her in a cell until the early hours of the morning – for the heinous offence of obstructing the highway. If they thought this would deter her they badly miscalculated her determination.
During the five years that Pauline took on the system, it was easy to forget that she was a grieving mother, who had lost her only child. They say that time is a great healer, but the pain of her loss must have attacked her every day and every single day that she carried the banner was a day that her grief was stirred up yet again. I suspect that, in the end, she was simply very tired.
Rest in peace, Pauline, you were a true warrior.
CPS backs down
My letter published in FRFI 202 (April/ May 2008) urged readers to write to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) in Crewe to question how the prosecution against me could possibly be in the public interest.
Following written representations to the CPS and Attorney General, I can report that the charge has been dropped, and my three-day criminal trial scheduled for July 2008 cancelled. I am aware that FRFI readers have written letters to protest against this senseless prosecution, and I should like to place on record my thanks.
This prosecution should never have reached court in the first place. Both the CPS and the court were made aware that I am a bereaved mother, and that my only child had died at the hands of the state. This particular attempt to criminalise and punish me was especially cruel, as I was arrested outside Styal, the prison responsible for my daughter’s death in 2003. Lisa Marley, a young mother held on remand at Styal, died on 23 January 2008, and I was arrested and charged with obstructing the highway – a charge which I denied – at the demonstration to protest against her death.
Aside from the vindictive nature of this prosecution, the case has raised a number of issues. All along, the Crown had argued that the case was in the public interest. At each of my three court appearances, and in a three-page letter to the CPS in March 2008, I argued to the contrary, and challenged their assertion that the case had passed the public interest test. After three months they caved in but it is unclear to me why it took so long for them to see the light.
The case also highlights difficulties defendants face when applying for legal aid. My application for legal aid had been refused; apparently on the grounds it had not met the criteria necessary to meet the ‘interests of justice’ test. At each hearing, I had to attend court without a solicitor, which was enormously stressful. I am not a lawyer and have had no legal training. It is an affront to the principle of access to justice that anyone should have to stand criminal trial and attend pre-trial reviews without legal representation. Yet whenever I attended court, the Crown was represented by a lawyer. I fail to understand how a defendant in a criminal trial can adequately represent themselves. It defies common sense. How can justice be achieved when there is clear inequality of arms?
There is a growing loss of confidence in our criminal justice system, which is hardly surprising. When laid bare, the system is frequently revealed as unjust and unfair and it is crucial that people speak out against this injustice.
But bringing pressure to bear on the authorities can and does work, as my case illustrates. The idiom ‘the pen is mightier than the sword’ tells us that words and communication are more powerful than wars and fighting. When faced with a prosecution and an attempt to criminalise me I will always fight my corner with strong words, and an even stronger determination to ensure that justice prevails.
Bereaved mother of Sarah Elizabeth Campbell, 18, who died on ‘suicide watch’ in Styal Prison’s segregation unit, 2003
Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! is supporting a demonstration called by No More Prisons outside Styal prison on Sunday 10 August 1-3pm to remember all the women and men who have died in British prisons and to honour Pauline’s memory and contribution to the struggle.
FRFI 203 June / July 2008