Four cleared of criminal damage over toppling statue of slave trader Edward Colston

The memorial was rolled into Bristol Harbour during a Black Lives Matter protest

The bronze memorial to the 17th century slave merchant was pulled down in 2020. PA

Four people have been cleared of criminal damage after the statue of slave trader Edward Colston in Bristol was toppled and thrown into the harbour.

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

Although a huge crowd of people was involved, just four people faced trial.

Rhian Graham, 30, Milo Ponsford, 26, and Sage Willoughby, 22, were caught on CCTV passing the ropes around the statue that were used to pull it down.

Jake Skuse, 33, was accused of orchestrating a plan to throw it in the harbour.

On Wednesday they were cleared by a jury at Bristol Crown Court after almost three hours of deliberations at the end of a two-week trial.

There were loud cheers from the packed public gallery after the not guilty verdicts were returned.

An estimated £3,750 ($5,085) of damage was done to the statue — including removing its staff and a coat tail — and £350 of damage was caused to the railings of Pero’s Bridge.

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.

Tom Wainwright, for Mr Ponsford, raised the question of costs being repaid to the four following their acquittal but Judge Peter Blair QC questioned whether such an application was appropriate in light of the high-profile support the four have received.

Artist Banksy designed a limited edition T-shirt, pledging the funds raised to their cause.

The prosecution argued the case was a matter of straightforward criminal damage, and who Colston had been was “irrelevant”.

But the barristers for all four of the accused argued Colston and his legacy was vital to deciding the case.

The court heard Colston was involved in the enslavement and transportation of more than 80,000 people, including nearly 10,000 children.

An estimated 19,000 died on ships bound for the Caribbean and the Americas.

Over the course of the two-week trial, the court heard there had been campaigns in Bristol to have the statue removed dating back to the 1920s.

TV historian and author Professor David Olusoga gave expert evidence for the defence, while former Bristol lord mayor Cleo Lake also supported the four protesters.

Updated: January 5th 2022, 5:34 PM