Boat Race swimmer Trenton Oldfield faces court


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The Independent Online

A swimmer “protesting about elitism” brought chaos to this year's Boat Race when he jumped into the Thames and brought it to a dramatic halt, a court heard today.

Trenton Oldfield, 36, stopped the annual contest for around half an hour on April 7, the first time in the history of the 158-year event that it had been disrupted by a bather.

Opening the case, prosecutor Louis Mably told jurors the race between Oxford and Cambridge was spoiled for hundreds of thousands of spectators watching from the banks of the river or live on BBC TV, not to mention the two university rowing teams.

He said that despite it continuing, "so far as the Boat Race was concerned, Mr Oldfield had obviously caused chaos".

He told jurors at west London's Isleworth Crown Court: "The feeling of disappointment was obvious - because not only had everything been delayed but the crews and the public had been denied a natural conclusion to the race that they had come to the river to see."

He said that after being rescued from the river, Oldfield was detained by police who asked him why he had jumped in the river.

Mr Mably added: "He replied that he was protesting about elitism. Exactly what he meant by that - who knows?"

Oldfield, of Myrdle Street, east London, denies a charge of causing a public nuisance.

Mr Mably said the two eight-man teams were just "settling into the rhythm and the race was developing into what was a close and exciting contest" when the disruption occurred.

He added: "By this time both crews were rowing flat out and were neck and neck.

"The race came to an unexpected and sudden halt, all in front of the tens of thousands of people at the side of the river who wanted to watch the race."

Oldfield, who was clad in a wetsuit, had swum into the paths of the two boats as they neared Chiswick Eyot between the two and three-mile markers of the race, which had set off from Putney.

Mr Mably said that although "to some extent" there was a risk of danger to the rowers, the real threat was to Oldfield himself as he narrowly avoided being hit by the blade of an Oxford oar.

"One does not need to imagine too much the damage that would have been caused to him if his head had been struck by an oar that was coming through the water at full force."

He said race umpire John Garrett spotted Oldfield and called a halt to the race.

"What Mr Oldfield had done was in effect to force someone else to take responsibility to stop him from serious injury.

"Of course, ordering the race to stop, bringing it to a halt in front of the tens and thousands of people who were watching at the river and on the television, it is not something that a race official is going to do lightly as obviously it spoils the race for everyone - the crews and the spectators.

"One person decided for his own reasons to disrupt a national sporting event and in the process the enjoyment of the spectating public."

Oldfield, an Australian, was plucked from the water by a boat and transferred to Chiswick Pier where he was met by police.

Jurors were shown the BBC's coverage of the race, and the chaotic aftermath of Oldfield's stunt before it was eventually restarted.