Shepton Mallet Prison Honours its atmospheric grounds to the MAG’s of Taunton
On Saturday 11th February, Shepton Mallet Prison unbolted its gates honouring our atmospheric surroundings as a final pitstop to 10 Taunton MAG Bikers, who had just taken part in a Memorial Ride in memory of the biking hero Fred Hill. Members of the Motorcycle Action Group (MAG) from across the country took part in this Memorial Ride annually to commemorate Fred Hill, an activist who died whilst in custody.
Whilst the Taunton branch of MAG’s visited the prison, many members across the country will also mark the anniversary of Fred Hill’s death outside the gates of Pentonville Prison, where he died in custody at the age of 74. This was not the first time the group visited the prison; in fact, they visited Shepton Mallet Prison on a memorial ride whilst the prison was still operational, over 10 years ago!
Arriving around 1pm, the hound of bellowing engines could be heard ricocheting against the boundary walls of the prison from the convoy of bikers that rode in through the gates, with some parking just inside the main entrance and others in front of the C Wing for all to see. The MAG’s took a few minutes to gather around their prestigious bikes as they donned their trademark berets, as worn by Fred Hill. Several visitors used the opportunity to admire the bikes as they passed, with plenty of photographs and videos to be taken!
The Chairman of the MAG arrived shortly after, to give a commemorative speech to the group and onlookers about the memorial ride and Fred Hill’s activism. Below is an account of Fred Hill’s activism, as provided by Sarah Smith, member of the Taunton MAG and accredited from www.mag-uk.org;
Fred Hill died in custody in 1984 at the age of 74, halfway through a 60 day sentence imposed under the law which criminalises motorcyclists who fail to wear crash helmets when riding. During the 1970’s and 1980’s Fred Hill set an extraordinary example in defying the compulsory helmet law. Nowhere in the world has anyone made such exceptional sacrifices in the name of biker’s freedoms.
Incensed by the compulsory helmet law, Fred rode everywhere in an old beret, collecting hundreds of tickets which he stored in a large suitcase. Fred’s refusal to pay the fines for helmet-less riding constituted Contempt of Court for which he was given custodial sentences thirty one times.
Fred loathed prison life and once wrote a disturbing account of his experiences. “What is a man deprived of his name, his freedom of movement taken away, his every privacy invaded, every move spied upon, locked away in a filthy cell for 23 hours out of the 24 hours – and half of these miserable hours spent in darkness.”
Demonstrations of support by MAG members were frequently staged outside prisons in which Fred was held. Fred Hill was 74 years old when in 1984 he died from a heart attack, suffered whilst in custody in London’s Pentonville Prison. Despite the tremendous news angle of one man against the state, the national media incomprehensibly blanked the tragedy, the only exceptions were two columnists, Mathew Paris and Auberon Waugh.
Fred was imprisoned 31 times, his final sentence of 60 days, proving too much to take, half was completed. The prison governor had warned Fred that the harsh prison environment could be the death of him, to which Fred replied that, “it didn’t matter ‘where a man died but how”. An enquiry into Fred’s death resulted in a coroner’s report which concluded that Fred’s prison experience had not contributed toward his death!
Whether the helmet issue is important to you or not, we all owe it to ourselves, to sustain a ceaseless call for the reform of this outrageous legislation. Despite the claims of our critics, MAG has never been against helmet use, we simply feel that is wrong to criminalise those who chose what to wear when riding motorcycles.
If we ever concede that the Government has the right to dictate to us in this way then we concede that ultimately, they have the right to tell us what to ride or not to ride at all.
After the speech concluded (and after a few more group photos) the group made their way into the Café located inside the Visitor Centre to enjoy a hot drink or two! whilst chatting with visitors, before departing in a convoy of solidarity, shortly after 2pm.
From reflection, to united in remembrance, Shepton Mallet Prison welcomes prestigious memorial rides year after year and we’re truly grateful to have honoured our historical grounds to the MAG’s of Taunton.