Bristol Protesters Cleared of Toppling Edward Colston StatueBreaking News
tags: slavery, statues, public history, Protest
Three men and a woman have been found not guilty of criminal damage after toppling the statue of the slave trader Edward Colston during a Black Lives Matter protest in Bristol, an act of public dissent that reverberated around the world.
Rhian Graham, 30, Milo Ponsford, 26, and Sage Willoughby, 22, were accused, with “others unknown”, of helping to tie ropes around the statue’s neck and joining with others to pull it to the ground.
Jake Skuse, 33, was accused of helping to roll it to Bristol harbour where it was thrown into the River Avon.
In a 10-day trial at Bristol crown court, the four defendants did not contest their actions on 7 June 2020 but sought to argue they were justified, because the statue was so offensive.
Giving evidence in their own defence, each described being motivated out of sincere antiracist conviction, frustration that previous attempts to persuade the council to remove the statue had failed, and a belief that the statue was so offensive it constituted an indecent display or a hate crime.
The prosecution, however, argued that the fact Colston was a slave trader was “wholly irrelevant”. William Hughes QC, for the crown, said the case was about “cold hard facts” and the “rule of law”.
The prosecution showed jurors a CCTV video compilation capturing each of the four defendants playing roles in toppling Colston. Bristol council’s head of culture, Jon Finch, gave evidence of the damage caused to the statue, which lost a cane and part of a coattail. He confirmed £350 damage to the harbour railings and £2,400 damage to the pavement.
The Colston statue was approved by the council in 1895 and it had not given permission to anyone to alter, damage or remove the statue on 7 June, the trial heard.
But Liam Walker QC, representing Willoughby, said: “Each of these defendants were on the right side of history, and I submit, they were also on the right side of the law.
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