University Boat Race: Trenton Oldfield in 'class protest'

image captionTrenton Oldfield denies causing a public nuisance

A protester has said he disrupted the University Boat Race by swimming into the Thames because it was a symbol of class division in a time of cuts.

Trenton Oldfield, 36, who denies causing a public nuisance, said Oxford and Cambridge graduates make up "70% of government".

Earlier, Isleworth Crown Court heard he "could have been killed".

Olympic rower Sir Matthew Pinsent, who was assistant umpire of the race, told police he was "alarmed" by the swimmer.

Mr Oldfield, 36, of Myrdle Street, east London, admits swimming in front of the crews.

'Symbolic gesture'

He said he decided to demonstrate after hearing about the government's public spending cuts, which he said were "worse than in Dickens' time".

On targeting the race, he said: "It's a symbol of a lot of issues in Britain around class, 70% of government pushing through very significant cuts are Oxford or Cambridge graduates.

"It was a symbolic gesture to these kind of issues."

He added: "Lots of people thought it made it the most exciting boat race ever."

media captionTrenton Oldfield has pleaded not guilty to causing a public nuisance

Earlier the jury heard from a statement Sir Matthew gave to the police following the incident.

The four-time Olympic gold-medallist was immediately behind the two eight-man university crews on a launch with umpire John Garrett and was followed by 25 motorised boats with officials, police, sponsors and camera crews.

He spotted what he believed was a balloon about halfway through the race and informed Mr Garrett, but when they got closer Sir Matthew was "alarmed" to realise that it was a person and he was "worried about the safety of the swimmer".

His statement, read by prosecution barrister Louis Mably, said: "The risk for the swimmer was great, he could have been killed if he had been struck by an oar or the rigging which is metal.

'Cracked his skull'

"If he had been hit by an oar or boat he could have cracked his skull, his neck, fallen unconscious and drowned."

Mr Mably said the man swam into the path of the teams near Chiswick Eyot.

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

The risk to the swimmer led the umpire to bring the race to "an unexpected and sudden halt".

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

But Mr Oldfield dismissed the idea that his life was in danger, adding that he had dodged boats, surf boards and rocks while growing up in Australia.

"It's not called wild swimming, just swimming," he said.

Footage of the race, which was eventually won by Cambridge, was shown to the jury.

The prosecutor asked the jury to decide whether the incident was not a public nuisance, or "if the enjoyment of the public is at the mercy of any crank, oddball or self-righteous protester who decides that their views were more important than anybody else's".

The trial continues.

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