Jury told to 'ignore politics' in Edward Colston statue damage trial

Credit: PA

The jury in the trial of four people accused of causing criminal damage to the Edward Colston statue in Bristol have been urged to ignore politics and emotions but to concentrate on cold, hard facts.

The bronze memorial to the 17th century slave merchant was pulled down during a Black Lives Matter (BLM) protest on June 7 last year, before being dumped in Bristol Harbour.

It was later recovered by Bristol City Council.

Rhian Graham (30), Milo Ponsford (26), Sage Willoughby (22) and Jake Skuse (33) have all been charged with criminal damage. They all pleaded not guilty.

Concluding speeches are being heard at Bristol Crown Court today (January 4) before the jury is expected to retire to consider its verdict. 

For the prosecution, William Hughes QC said the trial was "not a public inquiry, nor about politics".

He added: "It's not about emotion but cold hard facts and, fundamentally, the rule of law. 

"We do not dispute that Edward Colston’s history is awash with his hands-on involvement with the slave trade. We are not apologists for Edward Colston and his ilk and nor will we be - but they are not on trial.

"Although it may not seem like it those not on trial are Edward Colston, abolitionists, the Society of the Merchant Venturers, Bristol City Council, (Mayor) Marvin Rees. English Heritage are not on trial, nor the citizens of Bristol," Mr Hughes added.

"You may be frustrated that you haven't heard from Marvin Rees or the Society of Merchant Venturers. Concentrate on the evidence you have heard. That us what you try this case on."

He said the defendants did not have permission to "violently remove" the statue from its plinth or to damage it unlawfully and throw it into the harbour.

He argued none of them complained to the city council, councillors, police or MPs, saying they did "nothing more than sign a petition" before.

He said they conspired to pull down the bronze statue to the slave trader. 

"The prosecution case is the defendants were acting jointly, each acted in a criminal manner, each defendant is front and centre of the (CCTV) footage seen," said Mr Hughes.

"However strongly you may feel about something you can't simply pull it down. That way is choas."

Conviction of the four, he argued, was "wholly proportionate".

Tom Wainwright, defending Milo Ponsford, argued his client, with others, "showed the world the people of Bristol are willing to stand up for what they believe in".

He added: "History is destroyed by not telling the truth. What, if anything, really has the city lost?

"What statue did the value have before June 7, 2020? What historical or educational value did it have? Describing Colston as a virtuous man is a lie.

"If you have a cancer like Colston festering in your city, you cut it out. Only once it's gone that the body can heal.

"Bristol is no longer weighed down by Colston, but is a beacon.

"This action prompted discussion where there was silence. Bristol is now a beacon showing how to heal communities."

The Colston statue's plinth remains empty. Credit: PA

Liam Walker, for Sage Willoughby, told the jury their decision "will be transmitted around the world - I urge you, unapologetically, to be on the right side of history".

He said the statue was an "attempt to erase history", adding: "History cannot be erased but history can be confronted.

"Sage Willoughby and each of these defendants were on the right side of history and, I submit, the right side of the law. Veneration of him (Colston) was an act of abuse and celebrated the achievements of a racist mass murderer."