How the ‘Colston four’ enlisted Banksy and Left-wing scholars to seal monumental victory

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When the statue of Edward Colston was ripped from its plinth and hurled into Bristol Harbour during a Black Lives Matter protest in June 2020, many of the protestors involved were identified and rounded up by the police.

But while several of those quickly acknowledged their guilt, accepting police cautions, four demanded their day in court.

The “Colston Four”, as they came to be known, openly admitted their involvement in tying ropes around the 125-year-old statue, hauling it from its plinth and plunging it into the water. They insisted that they had committed no crime.

Rhian Graham, 30, Milo Ponsford, 26, Sage Willoughby, 22, and Jake Skuse, 33, argued that their actions had been justified because the statue was a hate crime to the people of Bristol because of Colston’s links to the slave trade.

While their defence may have seemed somewhat risky, their gamble to have the case heard before a jury, rather than magistrates, paid off on Wednesday when they walked free from Bristol Crown Court, having been aquitted of the charge.

As part of the defence case, Prof David Olusoga, the broadcaster and author, was called and spoke about the appalling conditions wretched African slaves endured more than 300 years ago.

Members of Bristol’s well-established black community also gave evidence about the impact that seeing the Colston statue every day had on their lives.

Cleo Lake, the Lord Mayor of Bristol between 2018 and 2019, also attended court to give evidence in support of the accused.

A well-organised publicity campaign in the city, supported by the famous graffiti artist Banksy, also meant those on trial were greeted by a large crowd of supporters at court each day.

Marvin Rees, the elected mayor of Bristol, did not condone the actions of the group at the time, but later said: “I’m not going to mourn the loss of the statue to the plinth.”

On Wednesday night, lawyers for the defendants said they should never have been put on trial, arguing that it was “shameful” the statue had not been lawfully removed by the city council earlier.

The decision to opt for a jury trial is thought to have cost the taxpayer more than £50,000, despite the damage to the statue estimated at less than £4,000.

The Colston statue, which had sat on a plinth in the city centre since 1895, had been a divisive issue in Bristol for decades, but all lawful efforts to force its removal had failed.

Protesters make a splash

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