Man who helped pull down Bristol's Edward Colston statue says he acted lawfully

L-R: Milo Ponsford, Sage Willoughby, Jake Skuse and Rhian Graham
L-R: Milo Ponsford, Sage Willoughby, Jake Skuse and Rhian Graham Credit: PA

A carpenter who helped pull down the statue of slave trader Edward Colston has said he acted lawfully "to prevent further harm to the people of Bristol".

The bronze memorial to the 17th century merchant was pulled down on June 7 last year during a Black Lives Matter protest and dumped in Bristol Harbour.

Rhian Graham, 30, Milo Ponsford, 26, Jake Skuse, 33, and Sage Willoughby, 22, are on trial at Bristol Crown Court accused of criminal damage.

The march was part of a wave of demonstrations around the world in response to the killing of George Floyd, a black man, by police officers in the US.

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

Giving evidence on Wednesday December 15, Ponsford said the march had partly been triggered by "people's loss of patience with issues that were being ignored".

Ponsford said that before the march, he knew Edward Colston had been involved in the enslavement and transportation of 80,000 slaves, of which almost 10,000 were children.

He added that 19,000 had died on ships bound for the Caribbean and the Americas.

He said: "I thought that a statue that celebrates a figure such as Colston was disgraceful, and offensive to the people of Bristol."

"As far as I was aware a lot of people felt the same way I did, everyone felt it was a disgrace that it was still there."

Ponsford agreed he had never personally petitioned the council to remove the statue and that he did not have permission to topple it.

But when it was put to him that he had no lawful excuse to damage it, he replied: "There was a lawful excuse, it was preventing further harm to the people of Bristol."

He added: "It's an offence to the whole character of Bristol, particularly in this day and age. I think it's just wrong."

Ponsford said he had only decided to bring his rope, which he used for canoeing, on the morning of the protest, although he did discuss toppling the statue in his workshop the previous evening.

He denied that he and Graham, who shared a workshop, had both agreed to bring their ropes to the scene.

"I thought it was long overdue that the statue should come down, I thought that as I had rope it was something I could contribute," he said.

"I certainly didn't think I could do it (pull the statue down) on my own."

He said he thought it was "quite unlikely" that the statue could be toppled.

Rhian Graham (right) is accused of criminal damage over the toppling of the statue of slave trader Edward Colston. Credit: PA

Ponsford told the court: "I have a lot of experience in building, I thought it would be reinforced with steel rods and embedded in concrete, so I didn't know what sort of leverage we would need - I wasn't certain it would happen."

He continued: "I thought it would still be symbolic - an attempt to topple the statue - because that would have shown the council that people have had enough of being ignored."

"Everyone around the statue realised what was going on and people were jumping to get a chance to grab hold of the rope and people were almost fighting to grab a hold of it," the defendant said.

Ponsford agreed he had been among those pulling on the rope, but denied helping roll it to the harbour.

He was caught on CCTV jumping on it once it was on the floor, and later bragged to his family he had appeared in footage shown on BBC and ITV news.

"I was quite surprised it had come down and I couldn't believe it was real - I cheered along with everyone else," he said.

"I couldn't believe it had happened, I think I was in shock, I think I was pulled along with the rest of the crowd.

"It felt like victory really to have this statue finally toppled."

Asked about his messages to family, he said: "I found it a very surreal situation, a situation which is very unusual for me because I'm usually a very reserved and professional individual.

"It just felt very surreal that I was in the middle of something like that.

"It's an offence to the whole character of Bristol, particularly in this day and age. I think it's just wrong."

The trial, which is scheduled to last for two weeks, continues.