This press release was first published on 5th January 2022
The four people accused of pulling down the statue of Edward Colston at a Black Lives Matter demonstration in June 2020 have just been found Not Guilty. The Jury returned a majority verdict of Not Guilty at Bristol Crown Court after only two and a half hours of deliberation.
Over the course of the dramatic 8 day trial, Rhian Graham and Milo Ponsford, admitted bringing ropes. Sage Willoughby spoke of securing ropes to the top of the statue and Jake Skuse described helping roll the statue to the harbourside. They were among 10,000 who attended the demonstration and cheered the statues removal.
The four defendants issued a public statement, and said:
“We are proud to be among the many hundreds of Bristolians who removed a slave trader from our streets. In the time it has taken this trial to come to court, institutions that formally defended Colston have apologised for doing so, venues, schools and places associated with him have changed their names and public opinion has moved on. History has vindicated the toppling. Now it’s up to all of us to address the legacy of slavery, and the systemic racism it has left us with.”
In the course of the trial the jury heard compelling testimony from Bristolians of African heritage, including former Lord Mayor Cleo Lake and historian Prof. David Olusoga. The prosecution at no point attempted to argue that the statue should have remained where it was, and based its case on a narrow legal framing of ‘Criminal Damage’.
Commenting on the unusual political pressures surrounding the case, Defence Barrister Raj Chada commented:
“The Home Office has confirmed that records exist of contact between the Secretary of State and the Crown Prosecution service and Avon and Somerset police on this matter. What we don’t know is what it was, and how often. It goes against all constitutional conventions for a politician to be involved in an ongoing case in this way.”
“The huge significance which the government has put on this trial is quite astonishing. We know that it has led to the government putting into the Police and Crime Bill, new legislation which says that if you damage a monument, you can serve ten years in prison.”
Christine Townsend of Countering Colston said:
“This is a great moment of hope for Bristol. For decades the democratic process to remove the statue failed. Not because of any doubt that it was harming our communities, but because of the influence of its defenders, the Society of Merchant Venturers. In the face of this acquittal we urgently need to address the capacity of this unelected elite to continue to wield significant power over our city.
It’s time we started honouring the thousands of our African ancestors that have been written out of history, and start building a society that doesn’t disadvantage their descendants.”