Four people in court charged with criminal damage after toppling of Edward Colston statue in Bristol

The statue was thrown into the harbour after it was pulled down. Credit: PA images

Four people will appear in court charged with criminal damage following the toppling of a statue of slave trader Edward Colston in Bristol.

Rhian Graham, 29, Milo Ponsford, 25, Jake Skuse, 32, and Sage Willoughby, 21, will appear before Bristol Magistrates' Court for their first hearing on Monday (25 January).

The memorial to the 17th century slave trader was pulled down during a Black Lives Matter demonstration in the city on 7 June 2020, before it was thrown into the harbour.

It was later recovered from the water by Bristol City Council - after an assessment it was revealed it suffered £3,750 worth of damage.

Grafitti on the empty plinth of where the statue once stood. Credit: PA images

No arrests were made at the time of the event, but Avon and Somerset Police later launched an investigation to identify those involved.

In December, the Crown Prosecution Service said it had authorised charges against four people.

Police have issued a warning ahead of the court case, as it is understood plans were in place for a protest outside Bristol Magistrates' Court ahead of the first hearing.

Organisers are now encouraging people to join an online demonstration, as the current coronavirus regulations prohibit gatherings of more than two people.

While there are certain exemptions to this rule, protests are not allowed.

The signs left around the plinth were collected by council workers and displayed in a museum. Credit: PA images

In a statement Avon and Somerset Police said: "We appreciate the efforts made to discourage people from attending in person however we’re concerned people may still choose to turn up.

"By law, anyone organising or facilitating a gathering of more than 30 people is liable to a fixed penalty notice of £10,000 while those participating in a gathering of more than two people can be fined £200."

Inspector Rob Cheeseman added: “We fully recognise the important right to freedom of expression and right to assemble but there is a deadly virus which has killed more than 90,000 people in the UK which simply cannot be ignored.

“There are more people in hospital with the virus than at any time during this pandemic and the NHS is at risk of falling over if people don’t follow the regulations.

“There is no excuse for not knowing the rules as they are very clear and have been very well publicised – people must stay home except for in a very limited set of circumstances.

“Unlike during the first lockdown protests aren’t currently allowed and anyone thinking of flouting the rules and attending a protest is putting others at risk.

“We remain hopeful people will heed our warning and choose to express themselves online rather than in person but as with all events of this nature we have a comprehensive policing plan should people gather."

Following the toppling of the statue, CCTV footage was reviewed and police arrested one man. Eight others were asked to attend a voluntary interview with officers.

In September, Avon and Somerset Police said detectives would approach the CPS for a charging decision against four people - three men and a woman.

Five other people - men aged 18, 20, 29, 33, and 47 - were offered a conditional caution for the offence of causing criminal damage to property valued under £5,000.

They also had to pay a fine of £100, which was sent to Bristol-based charity Nilaari, and take part in two hours of environmental improvement works arranged by the council.