Black Lives Matter protestors cleared of criminal damage after toppling Edward Colston statue

Four people were freed from property damage for overthrowing the statue of slave trader Edward Colston in Bristol and tossing it into the harbor.

The 17th century bronze memorial to the slave trader was demolished during a protest against Black Lives Matter on June 7, 2020 before being rolled into the water.

A huge crowd was involved, but only four people were brought to justice.

Rhian Graham, 30, Milo Ponsford, 26, and Sage Willoughby, 22, were caught under video surveillance while they were running the ropes around the statue that was being used to pull it down.

Jake Skuse, 33, was accused of devising a plan to dump it in port.

This afternoon, after nearly three hours of deliberation, they were acquitted after a two-week trial by a jury at Bristol Crown Court.

After the acquittals were returned, there was loud cheers from the overcrowded public platform.

An estimated £ 3,750 damage was done to the statue – including the removal of its staff and a skirt tail – and £ 350 to the railings of Pero’s Bridge.

All four defendants admitted their involvement but denied their actions were criminal, claiming the statue itself was a hate crime against Bristol residents.

They chose to have the case heard by a jury at Bristol Crown Court, although it could have been heard by a judge.

In a statement following the verdict, Raj Chada, representing Mr. Skuse, said: “The truth is, the accused should never have been prosecuted.

“It is shameful that Bristol City Council did not dismantle the statue of slave trader Edward Colston that offended the people of Bristol, and just as shameful that they then supported the prosecution of these defendants.”

Blinne Ni Ghralaigh for Ms. Graham said: “This case shows the fundamental importance of a jury trial.

“That’s because juries represent the community’s collective sense of justice.

“In that case, they found that condemnation for the removal of this statue – which exalted a slave trader who was involved in the enslavement of over 84,000 black men, women and children as a ‘virtuous and wise’ man – would not be proportionate. ”

Tom Wainwright for Mr Ponsford asked whether the defendants would be reimbursed after their acquittal, but Judge Peter Blair QC asked if such a request was reasonable given the high-profile support the defendants have received.

The artist Banksy designed a limited edition t-shirt and pledged the funds raised for the defendants’ cause.

Prosecutors argued that the case was simple criminal damage and who Colston was was “irrelevant”.

But the lawyers for all four of the defendants argued that Colston and his legacy were vital to the decision of the case.

The court heard that Colston was involved in the enslavement and transportation of over 80,000 people, nearly 10,000 of whom were children.

An estimated 19,000 died on ships sailing to the Caribbean and America.

During the two-week trial, the court heard that there had been campaigns in Bristol to have the 1920s statue removed.

Television historian and writer Professor David Olusoga provided expert evidence in support of the defense, while former Bristol Mayor Cleo Lake supported the defendant.

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