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Six years on: Remembering Pauline Campbell and her campaign against prisons

vg | 17.05.2014 18:56 | Policing | Repression

I spent a couple of hours today in Malpas, Cheshire with Joan Meredith, who walked alongside and supported Pauline Campbell in her campaign from 2003-2008 to prevent the deaths of women and young people in the prison system and to close all prisons. Afterwards, I visited the grave of Pauline and her daughter Sarah in Malpas cemetery, pictured below.

Pauline Campbell's only child Sarah died aged just 18 in Styal Prison in 2003. Thereafter, Pauline would protest outside prisons where a death had occurred, stand in front of prison vans arriving with new prisoners and demand that the women inside be taken instead to a place of safety. After five years of tireless campaigning during which Pauline was arrested numerous times but rarely brought to court and never convicted, she was found dead on her daughter's grave in Malpas on 15 May 2008. That was six years ago this week and Pauline is remembered by Joan in a post on her blog. [ See also: Guardian obituary | Remember Pauline | Pauline Campbell Remembered, 11 Aug 2008, Styal | Prisoner Justice Day, 13 Aug 2008, Holloway ]

Reports on indymedia of some of Pauline's prison protests: [ 5 Feb 2008, Styal | 17 Jan 2008, Holloway | 27 Sep 2007, Not Guilty | 12 Jul 2007, Holloway | 23 Oct 2006, Eastwood Park ]

Pauline & Sarah Campbell's grave, tended by Joan, Malpas cemetery
Pauline & Sarah Campbell's grave, tended by Joan, Malpas cemetery

Pauline Campbell protesting outside Holloway Prison in 2007 [Photo: Guido]
Pauline Campbell protesting outside Holloway Prison in 2007 [Photo: Guido]

Joan Meredith remembers Pauline

Read this and Joan's other posts at Joan Meredith's blog.

Pauline Campbell died six years ago this week on 15th May 2008. Her struggle for the abolition of the imprisonment of women and children should never be forgotten. She would find it hard to believe how little progress has been made towards prison reform since then. So many recommendations made by the Corston Report have been sidelined. Vulnerable, mentally ill women are still sent to prison. She would be furious to know that inspection after inspection of children's prisons show that they are still places of abuse where so called restraint, a euphemism for torture, is still practised. The suffering of the families is still ignored. Inquests take just as long. Young children are still being abused, restrained and continue to die in badly run, Secure Training Centres. Young children's deaths are not even thought to be worth an inquiry. Pauline wanted to see prisons abolished and would have fought the proposed building of the largest prison in Europe at Wrexham.

In 2003, Pauline and I travelled to London to protest at the United Family and Friends Demonstration against deaths in custody and continued to do this every year until her death in 2008. She spoke eloquently and passionately in Trafalgar Square and outside Downing St. about the plight of prisoners caught up in our rotten justice system. I continued to attend this event after her death and I was upset that ill health prevented me from going to the demonstration in 2013 to remind everyone about Pauline's singular commitment to her campaign against prisons.We all need to go on and on highlighting the deaths in custody. In 2011 protesters were prevented, by the police, from handing in a letter to 10 Downing St at the end of the annual march. They then tried to tie it to the gates. But the police stopped them. The atmosphere turned very tense, then the protesters sat down and the police tried to kettle them but failed. Pauline would have supported this direct action. Tension mounted further when an elderly lady, a relative of a man who had died in custody, was dragged by police out of Whitehall. Where was our freedom to protest?

If incidents like this can happen in Downing Street, we should not be complacent about anything that takes place behind locked doors in our privatised prisons.

Joan Meredith

See also Laura Topham's 2013 report Chained to the Prison Gates about Pauline Campbell and a campaigner from an earlier era Violet Van der Elst.

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