Jack Straw, the Secretary of State for Justice, was met by protesters from West Oxford campaign as he arrived to give a talk to the Oxford University Labour Club.
The campaigners protested against the opening of new probation centre in the residential area of Oxford on Mill Street. The probation centre plans were announced without consultation with the locals.
The protesters campaigned in the Longwall street outside Magdalen college around 8pm. They aimed to stop Jack Straw as he drove back from dinner with the President of Magdalen.
“[The centre] is supposed to keep up to 500 offenders a week. They come from across a range of offences, including sex offenders,” said Matthew Savage, one of the protesters. “They will be walking up and down the cul-de-sac.”
He expressed his outrage at the fact that the “locals have had no say” in this decision and that “they have had no information from the Thames Valley Police”.
Thames Valley Probation is negotiating a lease for part of Trajan House in West Oxford as plan to centralize services. Existing probation offices in Cowley, Banbury and Abingdon would be closed. If talks are successful, the 100-staff centre will start operating in April 2010.
The centre does not require planning permission, as the scheme does not involve the change of the use of the building.
The protesters were demanding the probation services to have a consultation with the locals before the lease is signed.
Straw spoke to the protestors for about 10 minutes. He explained that he is not in control of probation services, so there is nothing he can do.
However, he said that he “had not realized the intensity of the local feeling” and made a “promise to speak to the relevant people”.
He also took the contact details of the protest group. By the end of the talk, he has had protestors joking along with him. As he was leaving to go into Magdalen, the campaigners gave him a round of applause.
Felicity Wenden, one of the campaigners commented, “We’re pleased that he stopped to talk to us. He didn’t have to. But we still want more transparency and dialogue with us, the people who live there.”
Zoe Hallam, 1st year PPE student present didn’t think that the protesters negatively affected the event. She said, “I don’t think the protesters has affected my experience of the talk. I guess this is the kind of thing you get used to after a while in Oxford.”
She added, “The talk itself was more a political broadcast rather than the talk – he talked about everything that Labour did during his years in parliament. I don’t think I learnt that much from it.”
Straw spoke to an audience consisting of OULC and non-OULC members for 1 hour. He defended Labour’s years in power and stated that in the party’s past there were worse times than recent three weeks. He was convinced that the party will survive and continue to prosper.