Remembering Pauline Campbell – Hidden History Part III

December 7, 2009

Continuing the series of blog posts on the late Pauline Campbell and her life. I talked to Joan Meredith this week. She told me (and the following copy in bold is her own words: “I believe that stepping out in front of the prison van was as important as Emily Davidson throwing herself in front of the King’s horse. Although Pauline Campbell wasn’t actually killed doing it it was in the tradition of actions by the suffragettes.

A friend of Pauline’s asked me to go and visit her in January 2003 soon after Sarah’s death.She thought I might be able to help but I wasn’t so sure. I was still shattered by my recent spell in Cornton Vale and I thought anything I had to say might only add to Pauline’s suffering.

However I told my friend to give Pauline my telephone number and let her decide for herself whether she wanted to get in touch with me or not.

Pauline phoned in September 2003 and came to see me. We talked for hours and I heard with no surprise about her efforts to alert the newspapers, radio, television, the government and the general public to the massive injustices that were going on in our prisons.

No one was listening and worse – she felt that no one believed her. Life had become unbearable. She was being ignored. I showed her letters I had written to the press, my M.P., the Scottish Complaints Commissioner etc. etc.etc. and I told her how easy it was for me to identify with her frustration.

I explained about the Ploughshares Movement and direct action and how we as a movement had decided the only course left open to us was to pledge to destroy the nuclear submarines by taking direct peaceful and nonviolent action mostly at the Faslane base in Scotland.

In October we travelled to London together to the United Friends and Family demonstration. There Pauline experienced the power of being with a group of like minded people when she accepted the invitation to speak along with other mothers and fathers in Trafalgar square.

She was invited to speak at the Lib Dem Conference a little later and after that her interest in politics grew rapidly. She questioned me, too, about the legal aspects of being arrested and appearing in court. I promised to take her to Helensburgh when next I was on trial.

I stressed that any action Ploughshares take, even though we break the law has to be peaceful and non violent.

In January 2004 Pauline held a vigil outside Styal on the anniversary of Sarah’s death. We were talking more and more about the possiblitity of stopping prison vans outside a prison where a woman had died . I told her I would be willing to do that . Stopping the traffic entering the nuclear base at Fasalne was something I was used to doing and had been arrested for many times.

We already had  the placards from Sarah’s vigil and Pauline planned to make a placard giving the name of the woman who had died. We would take flowers and a letter for the governor.

I was in America in April  when a woman died in Redditch. Pauline went with two friends and handed in a letter to the governor. That really gave her a sense of achievement. She asked me if I would go with her next time a woman died and stop the vans going in to the prison.

On May 4th. Louise Davies (prisoner) died at Newhall Wakefield and on May 7th. Pauline was so well organised and three of us went to Newhall and stationed ourselves by the barrier outside the prison. We watched as cars were made to wait until the barrier went up.

I told Pauline how easy and safe it would be to stop the prison van. We would just step in front of the van once it had halted at the barrier and we would blockade it for as long as we could . We did for an hour.

Archived Wakefield Express Article May 7th, 2004. Wakefield's Newhall Women's Prison

We had arranged that when the police arrived and routinely asked us to move off the highway two of us would and leave Pauline on her own to be arrested by the police.

Then we would follow after her to the  police station. All went according to plan.

But Pauline of course was upset by it all but she felt that now someone might listen. She continued to protest at the death of every woman who died in prison until she died herself.”

(F.L Joan Meredith and I will be attending a lecture in memory of Pauline Campbell this week which takes place at the Manchester Metropolitan University.  See this link:

The Social Reality of Prisons

We are continuing to document these important (and hitherto we believe unrecorded) aspects of Pauline’s life. Joan Meredith brought a newspaper cutting of the demonstration that she was talking about to show me. See this photograph of the Wakefield Express Article of May 7th, 2004.)

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