The Colston Four verdict ‘undermines rule of law’, a former Cabinet minister has warned, as he said vandalism isn’t an acceptable form of political protest.
The Black Lives Matter activists openly admitted toppling the statue of Edward Colston, but walked free from court after a jury agreed that they had committed no crime.
The three men and one woman – dubbed the Colston Four – were acquitted of criminal damage after opting for a jury trial and arguing that pulling down the bronze statue in Bristol and rolling it into a harbour was justified.
Rhian Graham, 30, Milo Ponsford, 26, and Sage Willoughby, 22, were charged with criminal damage after being caught on CCTV passing the ropes around the statue that were used to pull the statue down on June 7 2020.
But the verdict led to concerns that other protesters will be encouraged to take the law into their own hands.
Robert Jenrick MP, who served as housing secretary until Boris Johnson’s September reshuffle, was clearly displeased by the not guilty decision reached by the jury.
Sharing the story of the court case, he tweeted late on Wednesday night: “We undermine the rule of law, which underpins our democracy, if we accept vandalism and criminal damage are acceptable forms of political protest.
“They aren’t. Regardless of the intentions.”
Meanwhile, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill will close a “potential loophole” allowing individuals to possibly get away with damaging statues.
He told BBC Breakfast: “We do have a clause in the Police, Crime and Sentencing Bill which will perhaps close a potential loophole and mean you can’t just go round and cause vandalism, destroy the public realm, and then essentially not be prosecuted.”
The Cabinet minister insisted destroying public property is unacceptable after a jury cleared four people of criminal damage despite ripping down the statue of slave trader Edward Colston.
The Transport Secretary told Times Radio: “I don’t want to be seen to be commenting on an individual case, it had a jury, they made the decision, they would have seen all the facts.
“But as a broader point, I would say we’re not in a country where destroying public property can ever be acceptable.
“I’m aware they were tried under a particular piece of legislation, a particular aspect of that legislation, which the new Police, Crime, Sentencing Bill will provide other routes.
“We live in a democratic country. If you want to see things changed you can get them changed, you do that through the ballot box, or petitioning your local council, etc. You don’t do it by going out and causing criminal damage.
“We’ll always be on the side of the law and when necessary we will fix any loopholes in the law to make sure that’s always the case.”
Colston Four member denies verdict condones political vandalism
Rhian Graham, one of the four people cleared by jurors following a trial at Bristol Crown Court, said she was “very happy” with the verdicts.
She told Good Morning Britain: “I always had a good feeling about it.
“I have never felt like a criminal in this. But you have to keep grounded.
“It could have gone either way, so I’m just thankful for the result that we have.”
Rhian Graham denied the verdict set a precedent condoning political vandalism.
She said: “I completely understand people’s concerns and I really don’t think this is a green light for everyone to just start pulling down statues.
“This moment is about this statue in this city in this time.
“I will leave the fate of monuments in other cities to the citizens of those cities.”
Ms Graham also claimed that the Colston statue’s value had been estimated to have risen from around £6,000 to more than £150,000 and potentially up to £300,000 since it had been toppled.
Historian who provided evidence for defence welcomes result
Historian David Olusoga, who provided expert evidence for the defence at the trial welcomed the court verdicts.
He told Good Morning Britain: “That statue standing there for 125 years was validating the career of a mass murderer.
“And to people whose ancestors were enslaved by Colston and men like him, it is offensive, and you can talk to thousands of people in Bristol who found it offensive.
“So I think this idea that a statue is somehow benign or harmless, I think that depends on your experience, where you’re coming from and what your family background is.”
Prof Olusoga added: “I think what this verdict shows is that when people are given the evidence about Edward Colston, about Britain’s involvement in slavery, and about the rather strange story about the cult that was built in Bristol in the 19th century around Edward Colston, when they get that information directly rather than through tabloids or journalists or politicians, then they actually react to the evidence rather than to the culture war drum beat that is built around it.
“Most people don’t understand the details of this history, of this statue, and the long campaign to have it removed peacefully.”