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.)

Quakers and Criminal Justice in the 21st. Century. Regional Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends. Wilmslow. Sunday 18th. October, 2009

Quakers and Criminal Justice in the 21st. Century. A regional Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends. Wilmslow. Saturday 17th. October, 2009

Dear Pauline,

Tomorrow supporters of United Family and Friends will be gathering in London although no demonstration is planned this year. (Ken Fero, co-director of the film INJUSTICE, invites anyone who would like to attend to meet with him at the usual location. For more details – click here). Friends will uphold a banner for your daughter Sarah. You will be missed, Pauline. I cannot be there so I’m writing this letter.

My press card makes claims to ‘objectivity’ (if such a thing exists at all). But these  words reflect my own ‘prejudices’ – a belief in the work you were doing. There is still a strong movement for positive and radical change in our criminal justice system. At the same time I see the great, gaping hole your death left behind. 

On Saturday 17th. October Joan Meredith and I travelled to Wilmslow to attend a meeting – a Regional Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends, open to Quakers and attenders of Quaker Meetings called ‘Quakers and the Criminal Justice System in the 21st. century’. I believe  similar meetings have been taking place in other parts of the country.

 We mentioned your name several times at the meeting.  At least three people I spoke to didn’t know who you were. You. ‘The suffragette of penal reform” (as David Wilson called you in the book ‘Death at the hands of the state’). Are criminal justice movements so fragmented now and so separate that they don’t connect with each other’s history? It’s only just  over a year since you died.

The Meeting in Wilmslow was well attended and significant – around one hundred Friends and Attenders. To use an un-quakerly metaphor – quakers are well known to ‘punch above their weight’ as far as influencing government policy is concerned. See: Quaker international involvement at the U.N .

This is not a report as such – there should be one of those appearing in the international Quaker Journal ‘The Friend’ soon. You were never officially a Quaker I know – for most of my life neither was I. Be open to ‘new light’ is what quakers say.

The meeting opened with a description of Elizabeth Fry – a favourite role model and heroine of yours. Here is the (well-thumbed) agenda – if you were still alive  I would have shown it to you in the Fire Station cafe. You would have scrutinised it, no doubt. You’ll notice a few of my own scribbles on the paper – Angie Zelter’s name came up as one of the Quaker prison chaplains mentioned having had contact with her whilst she was in prison.


Ten years. Perhaps you might have asked me why representatives of Inquest, the Howard League , United Family and Friends, No More Prisons , or Campaign for Justice for Jean Charles de Menezes were not speaking on such an important day. This question came to me too. Does it help at all to know –  historically speaking there have always been conservative and ‘radical’ elements in Quakerism? There is no single ‘quaker’ perspective.

 Is it possible, (or important) to categorise the organisations I have named here as ‘radical’ or ‘conservative’? I’m not sure – I would have liked to hear your views on this. If you were still alive, (and as a Trustee of the Howard League) perhaps you would have been leading the day yourself?

As is often the case with such meetings – there was far too much information to digest – I couldn’t speak to everybody and had to make a choice between workshops. I chose two: the first (and the overview) was led by Graham Robb – who amongst other issues spoke about risk factors and prevention. The second was led by Michael Hennessey (Youth Justice Panel member) speaking about referral orders.  

Of course all this meant I missed workshops two(see this link: Quaker support in prison), three (Women/Rehabilitation)  and four(Suicides and Mental Health in Prison). All of these would have been important to you, as we know.

I’ve never specialised in criminal justice. I miss you in that respect too  – your expertise.  I know how many facts you had at your fingertips and how well you worked together with journalists to facilitate the truth. After attending this meeting I still have questions about what the truth of the criminal justice system in the 21st. century really is.

The meeting confirmed my belief that Quakers are working extremely hard to maintain preventative strategies in all sorts of ways. Working at the coal face (if you like) to stop young people quite literally losing their lives in the mill of the machinery of the state (as your daughter Sarah did). Anyone who hears Michael Hennessy describe his work with young people and referral orders – will not doubt this. In plenary discussions Friends said quaker-inspired projects such as ‘Circles of Support and Accountability’ are ‘not popular with (what was termed) ‘the media’ – especially not the Daily Mail’. Of course I’ve got my own take on this one.

Nevertheless – Friends (Quakers) are clearly engaging with elected representatives, civil servants and decision makers. Graham Robb (former Chair of the Youth Justice Board) approached me after giving his initial overview and has responded to my emails and requests for information. The first question I asked after he had given his overview would have been important to you.

The question was “How many deaths have there been in custody in recent years?” I was initially confused by Graham’s answer  – perhaps my question could have been more precise. I believe you would have understood the implications of his answer much better than I could, Pauline. Graham said there had been nine deaths since 2000. Of course his answer referred only to the up to 18 year old age group.We know that even one death is one too many.

 Seeking to put this in context I approached the Howard League’s Lost Daughters Campaign (set up in your memory) and learned:

“1,668 women and girls have died in custody (prison, immigration, approved premises and detention under the Mental Health Act) between 1999 and 2008.

This figure includes 72 women officially recorded as ‘self-inflicted deaths’ in prison.  Another three women have died in prison and been categorised as self-inflicted deaths this year, with one woman dying categorised as natural causes. The deaths of women in prison are still a national scandal”. 

The Howard League also told me:

“As far as (we) know there isn’t a published list of deaths in custody- the Ministry of Justice send us notification as and when a death in custody occurs…in 2009…

  •  Alison Colk, 36, died on her first night of a 28 day sentence for theft in Styal prison. She was found suspended by ligature.
  •  Samantha Dainty, 32, died in her cell in Forston Hall prison. She was in prison for life and was found hanging.
  •  Julie Hooper, 45, died in her cell in Send prison. She was found in the night with lacerations to her arms and legs.
  •  Michelle Pearce was a terminally ill cancer patient. She was detained in Send prison, although she died in hospital having had her life support machine turned off”.

We  miss you, Pauline and bless you.


See also:

and resources compiled by the Quaker United Nations Office:   

I’ve been looking through past emails today and came across several from Pauline Campbell(now deceased). In one of them she’s thanking me for the organisation of a (now historic) meeting held on the 12th. January, 2006 at Chester Quaker Meeting House (in Cheshire, England).

The meeting was held under the auspices of the Wirral and Chester Quaker “Testimony in Action Committee”. I remember it well. My daughter was just six months old, I had to take baby along and was so relieved that she slept or fed her way fairly peacefully through the evening…

I’d initiated this public meeting. It was very well attended (about 100 or so people came). I hadn’t spent much time with Pauline Campbell, (I’d met her through Joan Meredith) but I’d put Pauline’s name forward to chair the meeting for a reason. 

They say that heroes and prophets are never properly recognised in their own towns and cities. And so it was with Pauline. There had been a series of vitriolic letters about her work and her daughter Sarah in the local (Cheshire) press and I wanted to give this grieving mother an opportunity to experience the respect I felt she deserved to have, in a supportive environment. On our own patch.

In the end, Pauline supported me, more than I supported her. She didn’t hesitate to help me – even holding my child I think, at one point. We finalised arrangements in a little side room off the main meeting room – and I suddenly realised how much effort it was costing her – how kind she was and what a challenge it must have been. In that little room, away from the public gaze – I think I was the only one who noticed how her hands started shaking – but she chaired the meeting magnificently. I promised to take her out to dinner to say thank you – but time went by. Pauline died and I never got the chance. I really regret that now.

Pauline is no longer able to answer her emails or pick up the telephone – but the memory of that meeting stays with me. I like to think it played some part in the events of the years that followed, during which Pauline gained confidence in campaigning and became known as ‘the suffragette of penal reform’.

 The title I chose for that January evening meeting was:

“Truth and Integrity in Public Life”

In Quaker circles this title has something of a history. It belonged to a committee which is now disbanded. For reasons which have much to do with the war in Iraq – I felt these words needed taking down from the shelf and dusting off.

David Shayler, the ex-MI5 officer was the invited speaker. In the end, David did not come. Annie Machon, his former partner, did. There was no shortage of courageous, intelligent, astute personalities on the podium that night.

In her own words: Annie is “a former intelligence officer for MI5, the UK Security Service, who resigned in 1996 to blow the whistle on the spies’ incompetence and crimes with her ex-partner David Shayler. She’s an author, journalist and campaigner on a variety of issues: security and intelligence, the war on terror, press and media freedoms, secrecy, legislation and government accountability”.  

Since that meeting in 2003, my role has shifted – it’s not part of my job right now to organise public meetings. I take my press card along and tell the human rights story that way, as best I can.

Three years on – I’m glad to see that talking about ‘Truth and Integrity in Public Life’ (at least!) is still alive.  Last week I went along to another meeting in the same series and the same place, once again organised by Wirral and Chester Quaker Testimony in Action committee.

The speaker this time was Lindis Percy – of the Campaign for the Accountability for U.S. Bases. She chose a subject and a title which has been a recurring theme in my work too:

 “The Right to Protest”.

Much of Lindis Percy’s talk concerned events surrounding Menwith Hill.

This is a blog for news (and analysis) that ‘doesn’t normally get out’. You won’t see Menwith Hill on the front page of the tabloids. To find out why: see my next post on ‘The Right to Protest’ and Menwith hill – coming soon.


It is a year since Pauline Campbell died. I knew her as a strong, spirited and loving human being. She was also a woman who changed the course of history. For those who don’t yet know her story may I point you towards the feature ‘Dying on the Inside’ which I wrote shortly  after her death. Eric Allison, Prison Correspondent for the Guardian wrote an obituary.

 This week Joan Meredith – grandmother, campaigner and friend of Pauline’s placed an advert in the Morning Star in remembrance (see first photograph). Joan explains on her own  blog how Pauline first became known as a ‘suffragette of Penal Reform’.

Since Pauline’s death Joan Meredith and I had both been aware that huge swathes of this brave campaigner’s life and work had remained undocumented.  Joan decided to do something about it and has put together an impressive archive of the material which Pauline gave her. This contains Pauline’s handwritten notes and reports, Joan’s personal hand written accounts of travels and demonstrations as well as minutes of meetings up and down the country where Pauline made speeches and gave lectures.

I interviewed Joan today.  Technical issues meant that I couldn’t post an audio recording of the interview  –  I hope to slot that in at a later date. Here’s a transcript of what was said:

 Frances Laing: Joan, we’re meeting together today – it’s been a year since Pauline died. We’re going to talk about  her campaigning.  You’ve brought along a huge file of cuttings. Can you tell me something about that?

 Joan Meredith:  I decided after Pauline’s death that I must make an archive of Pauline’s campaigns. I have completed the file for the year 2003.  It was in January of that year that Sarah died in Styal prison and I first met Pauline in September 2003. The cuttings in this file we are now looking at are about Pauline’s work in the year 2004.  

Frances Laing : So how many files of archived material have you got altogether Joan and how did you get this material?

 Joan Meredith: I’ve got five files altogether. While Pauline was alive she insisted on giving me a copy of everything that appeared in the newspapers. I was given copies of leaflets for demonstrations. Copies of demonstration press releases and articles that she thought were relevant to her campaign. 

Over and over again she would say to me:

‘You will know what to do with these, Joan when the time comes.’

 Frances Laing: Do you know what she meant by that, Joan? 

Joan Meredith: Yes. She knew that when the time came she would end her life because the pain of what she was suffering had become too great to bear.  I feel that I have got a moral obligation to carry out her wishes.

Frances Laing: Why do you think it is important to archive the work that Pauline did?

Joan Meredith: So much of women’s history is never written down. And while I do not feel that this is a complete record of what Pauline did – I know that she would want as complete a record as possible to be left behind.

 Frances Laing: Why do you say ‘this is not a complete record?’

Joan Meredith: I believe that the carefully chronologically ordered collection of papers that she made was unfortunately thrown away. And I know for a fact that her computer was taken away by the police. This makes me really sad – that documented work critically important to the welfare of women has been lost.

 Frances Laing:  So what do you see is the  lasting impact of Pauline’s work?

 Joan Meredith: Hopefully, the huge impact that she made while alive will serve other people working on the welfare of people in prison (men, women and children). Her heroine was Elizabeth Fry and if Pauline’s memory can reinforce the public’s regard for Elizabeth Fry and raise public awareness then Pauline’s  work must have a lasting effect. Pauline believed that prison did not work and prisons should be abolished.

 Frances Laing: What was your involvement with Pauline?

 Joan Meredith: My involvement with Pauline came about through the peace movement. A friend of mine who had known Pauline for twenty years asked me did I think I might help this woman who lived in the village and whose daughter had recently died in prison. I wasn’t sure that I was the right person because I felt it would only reinforce the horror of the shortcomings of our prison system. because I had just served a prison sentence myself and was appalled about what is going on in our prisons today.

Frances Laing: Why did you go to prison?

Joan Meredith: I went to prison for not paying a fine after breaching the peace at Faslane nuclear submarine base.

 Frances Laing:  What do you think Pauline would  have thought about blogging?

 Joan Meredith: Pauline would have taken to blogging like a duck takes to water. Communication and getting out the real facts of what was going on in our society became her reason for living.

Frances Laing: Pauline worked as a lecturer at Newi in Wrexham, North Wales. You went to the  Women’s Archive of Wales Roadshow in Aberystwyth in 2008 . What did you do there?

 Joan Meredith: I took along a selection of papers about Pauline (newspaper cuttings e.t.c.) – and explained to them that I was afraid that when I died it was possible that these papers would be thrown away and I asked the archive staff if they would like to have them. They said yes and offered to help.

Interview: 19/05/09

Here are just a few examples of the materials contained in Joan’s files:

Manchester Evening News - Press Clip - 19 January, 2004. Sarah's first vigil

Manchester Evening News - Press Clip - 19 January, 2004. Sarah's first vigil

From left to right: Pauline Campbell, Yvonne Bailey (Scholes), (unknown), Jane Foreshaw, (unknown),Elaine Griffiths, (unknown), Joan Meredith.

Joan Meredith, Pauline Campbell and Joan Buckley at the United Friends and Family Demonstration. Chester Evening Leader 1.11.94

Joan Meredith, Pauline Campbell and Joan Buckley at the United Friends and Family Demonstration. Chester Evening Leader 1.11.94

Chester Evening Leader Press cutting of the United Friends and Family Demonstration held every year on the last Saturday in October. Picture taken at Trafalgar Square. The autograph was given to Joan Meredith by Benjamin Zaphaniah who was present at the demonstration.