Rhian Graham, 29, Milo Ponsford, 25, Jake Skuse, 32, and Sage Willoughby, 21, were accused of criminal damage after the controversial statue of Edward Colston was rolled and dragged into the water during 2020 Black Lives Matter protests in Bristol
Four people have been cleared of causing criminal damage after the statue of slave master Edward Colston was toppled and thrown into Bristol harbour.
The so-called ‘Colston 4’ were on trial at Bristol Court Crown after the controversial landmark was rolled and dragged into the water during Black Lives Matter protests in the city on June 7, 2020.
Rhian Graham, 29, Milo Ponsford, 25, Jake Skuse, 32, and Sage Willoughby, 21, were arrested and charged.
Six others accepted conditional police cautions for their part in the incident.
All four had denied the charge.
The four have been cleared at Bristol Crown Court of criminal damage for pulling down a statue of slave trader Edward Colston during a Black Lives Matter protest in June 2020.
The four defendants laughed with relief as the verdicts were returned and hugged the many supporters that were waiting outside of court when they were released from the dock.
There were loud cheers from the packed public gallery after the not guilty verdicts were returned.
All four defendants admitted their involvement but denied their actions were criminal, claiming the statue itself had been a hate crime against the people of Bristol.
They chose to have the case heard by a jury at Bristol Crown Court, even though it could have been dealt with by a magistrate.
Around 10,000 people gathered in the centre of Bristol during the protests which erupted in the wake of the police shooting of George Floyd in the US.
A huge crowd of people took part in an 83-minute procession which saw the statue of the 18th-century slave trader toppled and thrown into the harbour.
Bristol City Council workers retrieved it and it has been on display in the city’s M Shed museum since this summer.
The statue – with spray paint still intact – was lying in front of a window with a view of the harbour, but was removed from the first floor of the museum on Monday and put into storage.
Historian Professor David Olusoga OBE gave the jury the grim reality of the 17th-century trade which enslaved millions of African people.
The professor, an award-winning author and broadcaster, told the court Colston was involved with the Royal African Company, which was a prime mover in transporting African people across the Atlantic to be enslaved in British colonies.
He told the court: “Edward Colston became a shareholder and then one of 24 leading members of the company.
“Towards the end of his 12-year involvement, he became the company’s deputy governor and was heavily involved in the company.”
The professor told the jury between the 1660s and 1807 it is estimated up to 3.5 million Africans were carried by British ships – of which some half a million people perished which was known as “wastage”.
He showed the jury a famous image of slaves shackled on the deck of a slave ship.
Andy Commins/Daily Mirror)
Professor Olusoga told the jury, Africans were seen as “unpeople” or outside the protection of English law and therefore could be subject to heavy punishment, mutilation and destruction.
Some 3,000 to 20,000 enslaved Africans were taken to Bristol as possessions, he said, and slave ship captains were given a bonus scheme to bring enslaved people into the UK for sale.
The idea the statue was erected by the citizens of Bristol was misleading, the professor said, as evidence suggested it was funded by an elite.
The professor said Colston had people determined to defend him, alongside people who knew he was a slave trader.
A statement was read in court by Gloria Daniel who talked about the plight of her ancestors and how the statue remaining in place for so long has was “shameful”.
It read: “The world had witnessed the public execution of George Floyd and we had finally arrived at a place in history where people would no longer tolerate the continuing dehumanisation of black people.”
In 2017, a petition was drawn up on the 38 degrees website calling for the removal of the statue.