Four Black Lives Matter protestors accused of illegally pulling down a statue of Edward Colston in June 2020 have been cleared of criminal damage in court.
Sage Willoughby, Rhian Graham, Milo Ponsford and Jake Skuse were charged with the offence after the stature of the 17th Century slave trader at Bristol’s harbourside was toppled.
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Skuse’s lawyer Raj Chada said the defendants “should never have been prosecuted” over the incident, the BBC reports. “It is shameful that Bristol City Council did not take down the statue of slaver Edward Colston that had caused such offence to people in Bristol and equally shameful that they then supported the prosecution of these defendants,” he said.
Blaine Ni Ghralaigh, who represented Graham, added that the jury had “determined that a conviction for the removal of this statue – that glorified a slave trader involved in the enslavement of over 84,000 black men, women and children as a ‘most virtuous and wise’ man – would not be proportionate.”
During the trial, Willoughby had called the statue an “insult”. “Imagine having a Hitler statue in front of a Holocaust survivor – I believe they are similar,” he said. “Having a statue of someone of that calibre in the middle of the city I believe is an insult, and I will continue to believe that whatever the outcome of this.”
After the bronze statue was pulled down using ropes on June 7, 2020, it was dragged through Bristol’s streets before being thrown into the harbour.
Bristol group Massive Attack later voiced their support for the statue’s removal, saying it “should never have been a public monument”. “The elevation of a slave trader clashed badly with our civic identity,” they added. “A philanthropy derived from crimes against humanity is as hollow as the statue itself.”
The nearby music venue formerly known as Colston Hall changed its name following the protests in the city. After public consultation, it announced in September 2020 that it would be known as Bristol Beacon from then on.