Edward Colston statue: Black Lives Matter protesters found not guilty of criminal damage after overthrowing monument to slave traders | UK News

Four protesters have been found not guilty of causing criminal damage after overthrowing the statue of slave trader Edward Colston in Bristol during a Black Lives Matter protest.

A jury at Bristol Crown Court acquitted Rhian Graham, 30, Jake Skuse, 33, Sage Willoughby, 22, and Milo Ponsford, 26, of charges following a two-week trial.

That statue of the slave trader from the 17th century was demolished on June 7, 2020 after a Black lives matter March before rolling it in Bristol Harbor.

Milo Ponsford, left, Sage Willoughby, second left, Jake Skuse, second right in mask, and Rhian Graham right, charged with criminal damage after overturning the statue of slave trader Edward Colston, outside Bristol Crown Court.  Image Date: Tuesday, December 14, 2021.
Picture:
(From left) Milo Ponsford, Sage Willoughby, Jake Skuse and Rhian Graham

In concluding remarks, defense attorneys had argued that Colston statue – built in 1895 – had become inappropriate and offensive, and that thousands over the years had signed petitions to have it removed.

Liam Walker QC, representing Sage Willoughby, had told the jury that their decision would resonate around the world:

“Make no mistake, members of the jury, your decision will not only be felt in this courtroom or this city,” he said. “I urge you all to be on the right side of the story.”

Tom Wainwright, representing Milo Ponsford, told the court: “If you have a cancer like Colston swirling in your city, you cut it out. Only when it’s gone can the body heal.”

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During the trial, CCTV and cell phone footage of the overthrow of the statue were shown to the jury.

The statue was toppled less than two weeks after the murder of George Floyd by police officer Derek Chauvin in Minneapolis.

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June 2020 – Slave statue pulled from the harbor

It was picked up by the Bristol City Council a few days later and exhibited at a museum in the center in June last year.

Prior to the verdict, William Hughes QC, prosecutor, had told the jury that the prosecution did not dispute Edward Colston’s story, which was “flooded” with the slave trade – but that it was not he who was charged and that the evidence before the jury proved that each defendant had acted criminally.

Shortly before the trial anonymous street artist Banksy produced hundreds of T-shirts shows the empty Colston plinth in support of the four defendants and says the money raised would allow them to “go for a pint”.

There was loud cheering from the packed public gallery after the verdicts were handed down.

The statue was thrown into the water during Black Lives Matter protests
Picture:
The statue was thrown into the water during Black Lives Matter protests

The four defendants had laughed relievedly when the sentences were returned and hugged the many supporters waiting outside the court as they were released from the dock.

Outside the courthouse, Rhian Graham said: “We are ecstatic and stunned. I’m just so overwhelmed because it never felt like we wanted to get here and now we’re here.

“We just want to say thank you to so many people because we have never been alone on this journey.

“We’ve been so supported, and we’re really that small a part of this.”

In a statement, Raj Chada, who represented Jake Skuse, said: “The truth is that the defendants should never have been prosecuted.

“It is a shame that Bristol City Council did not take the statue of the slave Edward Colston who had caused such an insult to the people of Bristol, and just as shameful that they subsequently supported the prosecution of these defendants.”

Blinne Ni Ghralaigh, on behalf of Rhian Graham, stated: “This case demonstrates the fundamental importance of litigation in jury trials.

“It’s because juries represent society’s collective sense of justice.

“In this case, they ruled that a verdict for the removal of this statue – which glorified a slave trader involved in the slavery of over 84,000 black men, women and children as a ‘most virtuous and wise’ man – would not be proportionate.”

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