Edward Colston statue toppling was 'difficult to predict'

Toppling of statue of slave trader Edward Colston during a Black Lives Matter protest in June 2020, credit ITV West Country
The moment in June 2020 when the Edward Colston statue was toppled. Credit: ITV West Country

A Government report has said the toppling of the Edward Colston statue in Bristol was "difficult to predict".

An investigation into the policing of a Black Lives Matter protest which saw the slave trader's statue toppled and rolled into the city's harbour has been completed.

It said there was no specific intelligence to suggest the statue would be toppled during the protest, saying a statue toppling was a “very rare occurrence” in the UK.

The report by Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services (HMICFRS) goes onto say: “The police received a lot of criticism on social media and in the press following the damage to the statue. Having examined the facts, we don’t believe this criticism was fully justified.

Black Lives Matter protest in Bristol in June last year Credit: ITV News West Country

“It is clear that, even in the absence of any intelligence to indicate that the Colston statue was going to be attacked, the multi-agency strategic group did consider the possibility of graffiti. Police attendees at the meeting told us that they weighed up the risks of what they thought may be minor damage to the statue against the risk of provoking major disorder by covering it up.

“Without intelligence to suggest the protesters’ intentions, it would have been difficult to predict that the statue would be pulled down. In the UK, this is a very rare occurrence.”

The report also said that in the absence of a reasonable belief the toppling would take place, police could not use powers under the Public Order Act to put any conditions on the route of the procession.

The inspectors praised Chief Constable Andy Marsh’s comments to the media in the aftermath of the protest, calling them “measured and sensible”.

Chief Constable Andy Marsh, Avon & Somerset Police Credit: ITV News West Country

Following the release of the report on Thursday 11 March, Chief Constable Marsh said he welcomed the "fair and measured report" into Avon and Somerset Police's responce to the protest.

He added: “The report recognises the toppling of the statue was not a spontaneous act and protestors had brought ropes to the location to carry out this act.

"There was no intelligence or indication to suggest this was going to take place ahead of the protest and the statue was brought down in the space of less than two minutes, giving us no time to respond.

“The inspectorate recognises many of the criticisms levelled at the response of our officers and staff have been unfair and that once the statue had been toppled, the situation would have been inflamed had we take action to stop it being rolled into the harbour, creating the potential for serious disorder and injury."

He highlighted criticism surrounding why the event was allowed to go ahead, and said: "It’s important to remember that when this event was held, an exemption was included within the national Covid-19 restrictions which permitted demonstrations to take place under specified circumstances.

“Our officers and staff undergo rigorous training to deal with the full range public order incidents and we have a proud history of facilitating and managing protests with fairness, legitimacy and proportionality at the heart of our policing operations.

“I whole-heartedly believe the command team made the right decisions on the day in extremely unique circumstances in the best interests of the communities we’re honoured to serve.”

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