‘A crime was committed’ - Police chief on Edward Colston statue toppling investigation

A Bristol police chief has told ITV News a “crime was committed” during the toppling of Edward Colston’s statue.

Chief Superintendent Liz Hughes, from Avon and Somerset Police, said she and her colleagues were “duty-bound” to investigate after the statue was pulled down during a Black Lives Matter protest in June 2020.

Four people - Jake Skuse, 33, Rhian Graham, 30, Milo Ponsford, 26, and Sage Willoughby, 22 - were charged with criminal damage following the incident.

They were found not guilty by a jury during a trial at Bristol Crown Court.

The Colston 4 were cleared following a trial at Bristol Crown Court.

‘Destroying public property not acceptable’

The verdict has prompted a debate about Britain’s history and statues which commemorate individuals with controversial pasts.

Transport Secretary Grant Schapps told BBC Breakfast: “I don’t want to be seen to be commenting on an individual case, it had a jury, they made the decision, they would have seen all the facts.

“But as a broader point, I would say we’re not in a country where destroying public property can ever be acceptable.”

In her interview with ITV News West Country, filmed before the so-called 'Colston 4' were cleared, Ch Supt Hughes defended the police’s handling of the protest which led to the statue’s toppling.

She described the incident as “impossible to predict”.

The statue of Edward Colston was pulled down and thrown into Bristol harbour during a Black Lives Matter protest in June 2020.

“I don’t think the police were caught off guard,” she said.

“If you look at how quickly the event happened, how quickly the defendants put the ropes on and the statue fell, I think it was an impossible situation to predict at that time.”

Ten people were identified by police after the statue was removed and thrown into Bristol harbour.

Six of those were given “restorative justice” outcomes, which saw them pay a £100 fine, undertake unpaid work and fill in a questionnaire about their actions.

The other four were prosecuted and subsequently cleared in court.

'I am not a criminal' - Colston 4 defendant Rhian Graham speaks to ITV's Good Morning Britain

“From a policing perspective, a crime was committed that day and we were duty-bound to investigate,” Ch Supt Hughes added.

“We’ve absolutely been proportionate right the way through this investigation. 

“We’ve identified ten people who were responsible that day and we have worked through different criminal justice options so six individuals have received restorative justice options.

“The four that stood trial, it was their right to have that trial and to have their evidence tested in court by a jury.”

Police and Crime Commissioner Mark Shelford said yesterday's verdict does not mean others can "take the law into their own hands".

The empty plinth where Colston's statue once stood.

“While I support our Criminal Justice System and everyone’s right to trial by a jury of their peers, I know many people will feel unhappy with the outcome given the fact that damage was undeniably committed," he said in a statement.

"However, due process has now taken place.

“The right to peaceful protest is enshrined in British law and I will continue to support the role of the police in facilitating that right.

"I would, however, remind our communities never to take the law into their own hands; if they do, the police will respond robustly and proportionately and prosecute those involved, as they did in the Bristol riots in March 2021."