Update Wednesday 9th. June, 2010 F.L: At the time of writing the blog post which follows – I was unprepared for some of the reactions it engendered. As a result and with respect for the ethics of blogging as described by Rebecca Blood  (Blood) instead of changing the core substance of what I’ve written I’ve added several updates to the post which can be viewed at the end. 

I wrote the post (perhaps wrongly?) assuming regular readers of this blog would already be familiar with many of Pauline Campbell’s outstanding achievements – especially since the work she did with organisations such as the Howard League and Inquest had been referred to many times in previous blog posts and articles. We know Pauline’s many contributions included her input in the development of the Corston report, for example. Without Pauline many feel the report would never have existed. My assumption (i.e that readers of this blog were already familiar with these achievements) sadly led one reader to conclude that I wished to diminish Pauline’s work, which was not my intention at all.

In the short piece of writing which follows my intention was to focus on some of the little known aspects of Pauline’s story. In voicing an opinion on the campaigns with which Pauline was involved (based on information from interviews documented on this blog) I’ve also met with differing views on this very recent history. Some of these views are included in the updates at the bottom of this post.

I’m aware the writing of recent history can be problematic and should remain a reflective process. I’ve tried to make the point on this blog many times that I believe the documentation of Pauline’s life to date is incomplete. One reader questioned my use of the term “official” story. Of course there is as yet no ‘definitive’ history of Pauline’s life – since the publication of this blog post I’ve become aware of just how many different narratives exist. But with the writing of this post – I hope a little more of the picture has come to light. I’ve always acknowledged there is more work to be done. In the public interest and not least because people are still suffering now from miscarriages of justice in penal institutions.

Since the publication of this blog post – I have come under considerable pressure to change what I had written or remove it. This too, has prompted much reflection. When a journalist  and/or blogger is asked to change what they have written or remove it – (unanswered) questions remain – not least regarding whether or not there truly is such a thing as ‘the freedom of the press’. From a professional point of view – I took the step of discussing the current version of the blog post in some detail with the ethics hotline at my union (the hotline serves as an educational mechanism).  No outstanding ethical issues could be discerned at the present time. End of Update.

Prisons campaigner Pauline Campbell who died on the 15th. May, 2008 became known as a “suffragette of penal reform”.  Like the suffragettes of the 1920s – when she died many of her papers and records of core aspects of her life and work were lost. The police had confiscated Pauline’s computer and belongings were taken away in bin bags.     

Is Pauline’s life now destined to become the subject of a television documentary drama?  The gifted screen writer Emilia di Girolamo has been commissioned to write  a script. Emilia visits Cheshire this week. Of course we know the journey from page to television  is a long one – and brings many challenges with it. Only when the script is finished will it be considered as a story for the screen.

The documentary-drama-in-the-making would have the prison campaigning that Pauline was a part of as a central focus.

In the years since Pauline’s death I have researched and recorded many of the lesser-known aspects of this campaign.  I met Pauline in 2005. I believe the public meeting I organised in Chester in 2006 which I had asked her to chair must have marked the onset of her public appearances and her political engagement (see update at the end of this post). 

[picapp align=”none” wrap=”false” link=”term=suffragette&iid=2586384″ src=”6/1/b/6/3b.jpg?adImageId=13004104&imageId=2586384″ width=”500″ height=”374″ /]

I attended Pauline’s Campbell’s funeral, her inquest, demonstrations after her death and memorial gatherings, including the memorial seminar held at Manchester Metropolitan University last year where I was invited to present some of this research(see links below). The research journey had often taken me to Joan Meredith – a close friend of Pauline Campbell.

So I heard, researched and recorded not only the official account of how Pauline lived and died but also what happened in the friendships between Pauline and the activist women she knew and worked with.  I learned that like other suffragettes throughout history –  for Pauline it was friendship and solidarity between activist women which sustained her work and informed her campaigning and the political ideas she had.

Having gained an NUJ card since Pauline died – I became acutely aware of how Pauline’s work, her personality and her life were being portrayed by the mainstream media. There was a tendency to individualise what she was trying to do. Journalists often spoke of ‘her’ campaign – almost as if no-one else had ever been involved.  I’m going to suggest some reasons why they did this: 

Firstly, from a journalist’s point of view, the tragic and dramatic details of Pauline’s life and the death of her daughter Sarah at Styal prison easily became a human interest story. Pauline’s arrests produced dramatic photographs and video footage. One grieving mother against the system?

Secondly, many of the journalists who have documented aspects of her life did not live locally in Cheshire. Maintaining a professional stance – many of them could not possibly have been privy to the countless late-night phone calls Pauline made to her friends – the hours and hours of political talk and planning that took place between Pauline and her (sometimes male) but usually female friends.

Thirdly, Pauline – meticulous as she was – often insisted that she be left to stand alone in front of the cameras and downplayed the assistance of other campaigners. She herself would have referred to the campaign as ‘her’ campaign. For very good reasons she wanted to be in control of the information flow at all times. She issued her own reports of demonstrations and often wrote to journalists – correcting their inaccuracies.

Pauline Campbell stopped prison vans to protest against the death of women in prison. Truth or fiction? Is that how the campaigns worked?

In a word, no. From the beginning, it wasn’t Pauline who physically stopped the prison vans. Joan Meredith did (together with other activists). I believe these activists included Yvonne Scholes, mother of Joseph Scholes. When the prison van was stopped the other activists ‘faded’ using a technique well-known to those familiar with direct action leaving Pauline in centre stage to face the media.

What does it matter who stopped the vans? It matters. The stopping of the vans became the symbol of a movement of which Pauline was an important (but not the only part) and as Joan Meredith put it: “stepping out in front of the prison van was as important as Emily Davidson throwing herself in front of the King’s horse”.

At Pauline’s funeral I recall sitting together with Helen John and Joan Meredith to research the article I wrote for Peace News. Pauline Campbell learned from and worked with these activists on a broad scale and if she had held out longer  – she would have continued to do so. This is not something which has been mentioned or discussed in the mainstream media. Ignoring this central fact about Pauline’s story means underestimating the true impact she had on society and politics. And she continues to inspire us.

The proposed title of Emilia di Girolamo’s documentary drama script is “A Duty of Care” (her web site tells us).

 A duty of care. We need to see it in the prisons system. We need to see it in Yarl’s Wood and Dungavel. We need to see it on our television screens.

Read these pieces alongside this blog post:

May 2010 meeting in Leicester of families – paying tribute to those who have died in custody. Report by the Institute of Race Relations (The day marked what would have been the forty-fifth birthday of Mikey Powell, who died in September 2003 after being detained by police in Birmingham and also marked the second anniversary of the death of Pauline Campbell).

Remember Pauline. Remembrance site.

Link to blog post interview written to commemorate the first anniversary of Pauline’s death. Includes photographs of the files Joan Meredith assembled which detail core aspects of Pauline Campbell’s life in particular with regard to direct action and her connections with other activists much of this information has now been passed on to the Welsh women’s archive. Pauline was a lecturer at Newi college in North Wales.

Link to Manchester Metropolitan University Seminar 2009 attended by myself and Joan Meredith. The event was called “The Social Reality of Prisons” – Joan Meredith read out her words featured in the interview about the stopping of the prison vans. Other speakers at the event included:

– Dr Eileen Berrington, Manchester Metropolitan University speaking on: “Not a faded memory: keeping alive the balance of activism,justice and rights”

–  Professor Barry Goldson from the University of Liverpool speaking on: “Abuses of power and violations of rights: child imprisonment in a punitive age. A lecture in memory of Pauline Campbell”

– Dr. Farida Andersen MBE – Chief Executive of Partners of Prisoners & Families’ Support Group (couldn’t locate a link for this, does anyone have one? Let me know…)

– and Frances Crook of the Howard League, speaking on the ‘Lost daughters’ campaign.

Peace News feature I wrote after Pauline Campbell’s death

Interview with Joan Meredith about the stopping of the prison vans

Blog post about public meeting in Chester chaired by Pauline Campbell, speakers included Annie Machon, former partner of David Shayler

Letter to the late Pauline Campbell – Quakers and Criminal Justice in the 21st. century

Pauline Campbell’s Obituary by Eric Allison

Scriptwriter Emilia di Girolamo’s website

Joan Meredith’s Story – published on the BBC My Story website

Guardian Article on Joseph Scholes

Manchester Evening News Article. 2002 Protest. Pauline Campbell and Yvonne Scholes protest together. Includes picture of the two women.

Joan Meredith’s Blog. Post describes a demonstration at Styal Prison in 2009 to protest against the death of Alison Colk. Pictures by Frances Laing. Demonstration also attended by Yvonne Bailey (formerly Scholes, mother of Joseph Scholes). I travelled with Joan Meredith as Pauline often would have done. Joan told me the details of the journey were the same as with Pauline, they always took flowers and Joan even described how she was the one who used to make Pauline’s sandwiches and coffee.

Helen John stands against Tony Blair in the General Election Sedgefield constituency

Update later that day:

It’s been pointed out to me that Pauline Campbell stopped prison vans on her own in later phases of protests.  In the original blog post my intention was not to give the impression that every single protest she had ever been involved in was conducted in the way I’d described here. Since we are still at the beginning of documenting Pauline’s life adequately – how could we possibly know this?

I used the words “from the beginning” to describe where and why the idea and the action had originated. My understanding is – that Pauline learned how to stop the prison vans from Joan Meredith and other activists and then went on to do this herself using the same technique.

Update: Saturday 29th. May, 2010

As facts and feelings emerge into the public domain, researchers link up and continue to put the pieces of the jig-saw puzzle together – fresh details of Pauline Campbell’s life come to light. In the original blog post I wrote “I believe the public meeting I organised in Chester in 2006 which I had asked her to chair must have marked the onset of her public appearances and her political engagement”.  

On a second reading of previous blog posts I note that (if the information I have to date is correct) of course Pauline had already attended the United Friends and Family gathering in 2003. (See this link). Nevertheless, the Chester meeting I believe was a important turning point for Pauline in terms of her political consciousness and her confidence. To my knowledge it was the first time she had taken on such an important public appearance – significantly – in  a location so close to home.  It must have taken tremendous courage to do so – and she did it magnificently.    

As far as the Manchester Metropolitan University Memorial Meeting in 2009 is concerned, sadly there wasn’t a video recording facility, but I have now received documentation of the event, including the running order of the speakers and for information, some of the memorial messages and a presentation that was given. 

A spokesperson for MMU confirmed: “Pauline generously gave up her time to visit MMU to talk to final year Criminology students. I understand she also made similar visits to students elsewhere in the region (e.g. University of Central Lancashire)”.

 I shall endeavour to find out whether or not the lecture given by Professor Barry Goldson at this meeting has been published. The title was: “Abuses of power and violations of rights: child imprisonment in a punitive age. A lecture in memory of Pauline Campbell” and the lecture included many vital insights into how and why our government continues to violate international human rights obligations – something which is particularly relevant to current campaigns and debates on child detention. It is hoped that MMU will be holding the event every year, although this is uncertain at present.

Update Wednesday 9th. June, 2010

I offer the following comments (in inverted commas) and alternative viewpoints – for consideration to the reader. They are comments made in the comments box of this blog. All comments are moderated as a matter of course.

Comment: “Fortunately papers and records were not lost” – for an alternative  viewpoint  – (see this interview )

Comment: “Pauline stood in front of the prison vans on her own many many times but had people, including Joan around her who were all part of the military style approach to her protests, each one having a key part to play”.

Comment: “Pauline stopped numerous vans alone right from the onset…she attended some of the very early protests with just a few close personal friends – no experienced activists in sight. This was also true of many of the later protests – the experienced activists had clearly ‘faded’. End of comment. (See interview conducted in December 2009 for an alternative viewpoint. F.L).

End of update

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: http://rememberpauline.wordpress.com/

and resources compiled by the Quaker United Nations Office: http://www.quno.org/humanrights/women-in-prison/womenPrisonLinks.htm