Edward Colston statue: Protesters cleared of criminal damage
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Rhian Graham, 30, Milo Ponsford, 26, Sage Willoughby, 22, and Jake Skuse, 33, were prosecuted for pulling the statue down during a Black Lives Matter protest on June 7, 2020. They were accused of criminal damage after throwing the statue into Bristol’s harbourside.
The “Colston 4” as they have become known were cleared of any wrongdoing by a jury after lawyers representing the defendants argued the bronze statue was offensive.
They said the statue, erected in 1895, memorialised a man who prospered from the slave trade and the statue itself had been a hate crime.
Prosecutors said the case was about the rule of law and not politics, and that it was not Colston nor his slave links that were on trial.
Critics fear the verdict will encourage copycats to rip down statues of other historical figures.
However, a number of left-wing Labour MPs rejoiced at the jury’s decision.
Coventry South MP Zarah Sultana said: “Edward Colston was responsible for violently transporting 84,000 Africans to the Caribbean.
“They were chained, beaten and raped, with 19,000 dying en route.
“Grotesquely, a statue was put up to honour him in Bristol, but today in court those who toppled it were rightly cleared.”
York Central MP Rachel Maskell said: “This verdict has started to confront the shameful past of colonial Britain, where statues were erected to veil the true characters of the people at the heart of slavery.
“Political propaganda was as live then as it is today.
“The real criminal act were the deeds of this man.”
Meanwhile, Norwich South’s Clive Lewis said the verdict “confirmed the toppling of Edward Colston’s statue was not a criminal act”.
He added: “The real crime was the fact the statue was still there when protestors pulled it down.”
An estimated £3,750 of damage was done to the statue – including removing its staff and a coattail – and £350 of damage was caused to the railings of Pero’s Bridge.
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Edward Colston was involved in the enslavement and transportation of over 80,000 people, of which almost 10,000 were children.
An estimated 19,000 died on ships bound for the Caribbean and the Americas.
Over the course of the two-week trial, the court heard there had been campaigns in Bristol to have the statue removed dating back to the 1920s.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said it was important not “retrospectively to change our history”.
Asked about the verdict today, Mr Johnson told broadcasters: “I don’t want to comment on that particular judgment – it’s a matter for the court.
“But what I would say is that my feeling is that we have a complex historical legacy all around us, and it reflects our history in all its diversity, for good or ill.
“What you can’t do is go around seeking retrospectively to change our history or to bowdlerise it or edit it in retrospect.
“It’s like some person trying to edit their Wikipedia entry – it’s wrong.
“And I think if people democratically want to remove a statue or whatever, that’s fine.
“But I think that, in general, we should preserve our cultural, artistic, historical legacy – that’s my view.”
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