In a victory for anti-racists, four activists have been cleared of criminal charges for toppling a statue of slave trader Edward Colston in Bristol in June 2020.
Rhian Graham, Milo Ponsford, Jake Skuse and Sage Willoughby, known as the Colston Four, were charged with criminal damage in December 2020. After a ten day trial, the jury voted for them to be found not guilty on Wednesday, with only two voting against.
An angry crowd pulled down the Colston statue and threw it into the harbour during a Black Lives Matter (BLM) protest. It took place during a wave of worldwide protests in the wake of the police murder of George Floyd in the US.
The Colston Four argued the tearing down of Colston’s statue wasn’t criminal. Willoughby said Colston was a “racist and a slave trader who murdered thousands and enslaved even more”.
Outside Bristol Crown Court, crowds greeted the four with loud cheers after the verdict was announced. Protesters held banners that read, “We toppled Colston,” and, “Glad Colston is gone.”
Willoughby hailed the verdict as a “victory for Bristol, a victory for racial equality and a victory for anyone who wants to be on the right side of history.”
For decades Bristol City Council ignored pleas to remove Colston. And after it was toppled, the local authority recovered the statue from the water and claimed it had suffered £3,750 worth of damage.
One of the lawyers, Raj Chada, said, “The truth is that the defendants should never have been prosecuted.
“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.”
The not guilty verdict is a blow to the Tories and home secretary Priti Patel, who is grabbing more powers for the police and ramping up repression.
Just last month, Ryan Roberts was jailed for 14 years after setting fire to a police van in Bristol during Kill The Bill protests.
The Tories are pushing the protest-smashing Police Bill through parliament. One of its provisions would increase sentences for “criminal damage to a memorial” from three to ten years.
The not guilty verdict should encourage everyone to defy the Tories’ racism and authoritarian laws—and keep mobilising on the streets.
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