Share

Furious Tory MPs have written to Britain’s chief legal advisor urging her to review the jury’s ‘wrong’ verdict as public backlash at their decision to let the ‘Colston Four’ walk free continues to grow. 

Ministers are set to press ahead with sweeping changes to legislation following the jury’s decision to clear Rhian Graham, 30, Milo Ponsford, 26, Sage Willoughby, 22, and Jake Skuse, 33, of all charges at Bristol Crown Court. 

Six men and six women, taken from Bristol’s population of 500,000, served on the jury. They did not return a unanimous verdict on Wednesday, but Judge Peter Blair QC allowed them to make a majority ruling.

A number of Tory MPs are also understood to have written to Attorney General Suella Braverman, who could use little-known powers to push the decision through to appeal amid mounting public anger over the case. 

Former Justice Secretary Robert Buckland described the jury’s decision as ‘perverse’ as Sir John Hayes MP, who leads the Common Sense Group, called the verdict ‘very disappointing’ and argued that the trial should never have been heard in Bristol.

The former minister told MailOnline: ‘This should have been a straightforward matter for the jury, who were certainly devoid of understanding of the definition of criminal damage – If you damage, destroy of deface property without permission, you are guilty by definition.

‘Clearly, the wrong decision has been made here. The case should never have even been heard at Crown Court, nor should it have been heard in Bristol considering the rhetoric surrounding this trial. 

‘I will be writing to the Attorney general tomorrow on behalf of The Common Sense Group to address these concerns.’

His comments come as Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said the UK was ‘not a country where destroying public property can ever be acceptable’ after a jury cleared four vandals who admitted playing a part in the destruction of the historic statue of slave trader Edward Colston during Black Lives Matter protests in 2020.  

MailOnline can also reveal how a leading barrister for 22-year-old defendant Sage Willoughby was slammed by the case’s experienced judge outside earshot of jury members.

Peter Blair QC accused Liam Walker, for the defence, of loading an ‘excessive burden’ on jurors and told the QC he had placed undue emphasis on the historical implications of the jury’s decision. Mr Walker later apologised.

The protestors raised tens of thousands of pounds for their defence through high-profile fundraising campaigns, music events and even a unique T-shirt campaign by Bristol-based artist Banksy, which helped them afford leading barristers from legal aid law firm Hodge Jones & Allen. It is not known if the group used legal aid. 

One online fundraising page raised £28,000 alone, while Banksy’s £30 T-shirts sold out at five Bristol independent shops. A legal source suggested to MailOnline that the cost of the defence team would certainly have been a five-figure sum.

Lawyers and political commentators have since slammed the jury’s verdict, with some admitting they fear that the 17th century slaver was put on trial at Bristol Crown Court, rather than the four self-professed vandals.  

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said the UK was 'not a country where destroying public property can ever be acceptable' after a jury cleared four protestors who admitted playing a part in the destruction of the historic statue of slave trader Edward Colston during Black Lives Matter protests in 2020

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said the UK was 'not a country where destroying public property can ever be acceptable' after a jury cleared four protestors who admitted playing a part in the destruction of the historic statue of slave trader Edward Colston during Black Lives Matter protests in 2020

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said the UK was ‘not a country where destroying public property can ever be acceptable’ after a jury cleared four protestors who admitted playing a part in the destruction of the historic statue of slave trader Edward Colston during Black Lives Matter protests in 2020

Photos from outside the courtroom show Sage Willoughby, Jake Skuse, Milo Ponsford and Rhian Graham (from left to right) celebrating after receiving a not guilty verdict at Bristol Crown Court, on January 05, 2022 in Bristol, England

A banner in support of the vandals dubbed the 'Colston Four' was laid at the foot of the empty plinth in Bristol

A banner in support of the vandals dubbed the 'Colston Four' was laid at the foot of the empty plinth in Bristol

A banner in support of the vandals dubbed the ‘Colston Four’ was laid at the foot of the empty plinth in Bristol

Tory MP Sir John Hayes, who leads the Common Sense Group, described the jury's verdict as 'very disappointing' and argued that the trial should never have been heard in Bristol

Tory MP Sir John Hayes, who leads the Common Sense Group, described the jury's verdict as 'very disappointing' and argued that the trial should never have been heard in Bristol

A number of Tory MPs are also understood to have written to Attorney General Suella Braverman (pictured) who could use little-known powers to push the jury's decision through to appeal amid mounting public anger over the case

A number of Tory MPs are also understood to have written to Attorney General Suella Braverman (pictured) who could use little-known powers to push the jury's decision through to appeal amid mounting public anger over the case

Tory MP Sir John Hayes, who leads the Common Sense Group, described the jury’s verdict as ‘very disappointing’ and argued that the trial should never have been heard in Bristol. He says he has written to Attorney General Suella Braverman (right) who could push the jury’s decision to appeal amid mounting public anger over the high-profile case

Sage Willoughby takes a knee to celebrate following the verdict in his favour. The prosecution's argument that the case was about the rule of law and not politics was repeated vehemently by critics, who raised concerns the not-guilty verdict would set a precedent for further vandalism and dangerous identity politics

Sage Willoughby takes a knee to celebrate following the verdict in his favour. The prosecution's argument that the case was about the rule of law and not politics was repeated vehemently by critics, who raised concerns the not-guilty verdict would set a precedent for further vandalism and dangerous identity politics

Sage Willoughby takes a knee to celebrate following the verdict in his favour. The prosecution’s argument that the case was about the rule of law and not politics was repeated vehemently by critics, who raised concerns the not-guilty verdict would set a precedent for further vandalism and dangerous identity politics

Colston Four fundraising events

Colston Four fundraising events

Banksy's limited edition grey 'Bristol' t-shirt

Banksy's limited edition grey 'Bristol' t-shirt

Dozens of fundraising events, including a limited edition grey ‘Bristol’ t-shirt designed by Banksy (right), were held to help pay for legal costs for the ‘Colston Four’

Why was Churchill-bashing historian who ‘desperately’ wanted to join BLM mob allowed to influence Colston jury? Anger grows over ‘political’ case that put 17th century slave trader on trial and NOT statue-toppling vandals 

Experts have slammed the decision to let a TV historian provide testimony at the trial of the so-called ‘Colston Four’ despite him openly siding with the Black Lives Matter protesters who pulled down the statue to the 17th century slaver.

The appearance of David Olusoga during the two-week trial in Bristol, among other witnesses for the defence, turned a criminal hearing into a ‘political’ trial, claim lawyers and political commentators, with the long-dead trader Edward Colston appearing to be in the dock himself rather than the four self-professed vandals. 

Mr Olusoga had previously said he ‘desperately’ wanted to join the Bristol protests that saw a bronze memorial to Edward Colston thrown into the city harbour in June 2020.

He told the Radio Times that he followed the crowds on social media as they moved closer to the statue, and had to fight urges to cycle down and join them. 

Despite these remarks, and objections from the prosecution, the 52-year-old – who has previously shared stinging criticism of former PM Winston Churchill – was still invited to speak for two hours as an expert witness for the defence in the ‘Colston Four’ trial. 

TV historian and presenter David Olusoga, 52,

TV historian and presenter David Olusoga, 52,

TV historian and presenter David Olusoga, 52, 

But political commentator and campaigner Calvin Robinson said he sceptical of the defence’s decision to bring ‘biased’ Olusoga as an expert witness. 

He told MailOnline: ‘David Olusoga was obviously biased, but more importantly he’s not an expert in destruction of property, he is a historian. 

‘This court case should have had nothing to do with history. It was about the destruction of public property. 

‘Clearly it was Colston on trial, and not the Black Lives Matter thugs. The whole trial was on Colston – it wasn’t entirely relevant and now the result looks political.’

Reacting to the verdict, William Hughes QC, of the prosecution, told MailOnline: ‘Ultimately it was a disappointing result.

‘In terms of David Olusoga, we [the prosecution] did not dispute the back story of Colston.

‘We accept he was a slaver, he was involved in the Royal African Company. In our view, Olusoga’s testimony didn’t add anything.

‘Rather, it was a gloss that I can imagine would have put anyone in the jury at a degree of unease.

‘The judge had a discretion to deal with matters that were relevant or not. We said it wasn’t, but he took the view that it was important the jury heard it. We have to respect that.

Mr Olusoga has previously been highly critical of former Prime Minister Winston Churchill (pictured)

Mr Olusoga has previously been highly critical of former Prime Minister Winston Churchill (pictured)

Mr Olusoga has previously been highly critical of former Prime Minister Winston Churchill (pictured)

Mr Olusoga has previously been highly critical of former Prime Minister Winston Churchill – accusing him of being involved in activities in Africa that would today be considered war crimes. 

While accepting the former PM was a ‘national hero’, Olusoga said in 2018: ‘While I’m personally glad that Churchill overcame Halifax in early 1940 and it was Churchill who faced the Nazis that year and the years that followed, that doesn’t mean that he wasn’t somebody that wasn’t responsible, or largely responsible, for the Bengal famine [of 1943-44].

‘It doesn’t mean that he wasn’t someone who took part in things we would consider war crimes in Africa. It doesn’t mean that his views, the things he espoused, were shocking to members of his Cabinet, never mind to people at the time. 

‘Both of those things are true. Both of those Churchills exist. We’re going to have to accommodate the fact that these things are true, and there are two sides to these stories and we’re not good at it.’

<!—->

Advertisement

Speaking on the vandals dubbed the Colston Four, Mr Shapps told Times Radio: ‘We live in a democratic country. If you want to see things changed you can get them changed, you do that through the ballot box, or petitioning your local council.

‘You don’t do it by going out and causing criminal damage. We’ll always be on the side of the law and when necessary we will fix any loopholes in the law to make sure that’s always the case.’

Mr Shapps added that the Government’s Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill will close a ‘potential loophole’ by ensuring a maximum sentence of 10 years for those who admit to damaging memorials. 

He told BBC Breakfast: ‘We do have a clause in the Police, Crime and Sentencing Bill which will perhaps close a potential loophole and mean you can’t just go round and cause vandalism, destroy the public realm, and then essentially not be prosecuted.’ 

The new Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill includes legislation that could see criminals handed a 10-year jail term if they are found guilty of damaging statues. 

The move comes after a host of memorials and statues across the country have been damaged in the past year as a result of increasing tensions over Britain’s colonial history.

Under current law, criminal damage is an either way offence that can either see a defendant fined or sent to prison.

At present, if the damage caused by the defendant is less than £5,000, the case is considered a summary trial, meaning it must be heard by magistrates and carries a maximum punishment of 3 months imprisonment or a fine of up to £2,500.

But the proposed Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill will scrap the monetary divide that currently impacts sentencing powers when it comes to the criminal damage of memorials – adding a maximum imprisonment of 10 years for offenders.

Political commentator and campaigner Calvin Robinson told MailOnline: ‘I’m not sure the verdict would have been different in any other part of the country, there was lots of pressure on the jury to be on the ‘right side of history’. 

‘That’s a worrying thing to say. They should have been looking for truth or justice I don’t think they found it.

‘This verdict does set a common precedent that people can feel they can get away with committing vandalism, destroying public property rather than going through the correct democratic process. We should have more faith in democracy, and not encourage vigilantism.

‘People make comparisons to the suffragettes, but the problem there is that they had to take direct action.

‘They had no access to the democratic process, but the Black Lives Matter thugs did. They didn’t choose to vote or stand for election, they chose to commit a criminal act.

‘Ultimately I have faith in the jury trial system, but that doesn’t mean it’s perfect. 

‘There are anomalies and this is clearly a case of injustice. It is obvious that this was a criminal act, and they should have been punished. I do think further action is required in this case.’

The decision to acquit the defendants now raises the question of who will now pay the estimated £3,750 in damage that was done to the statue after it was torn from its plinth.  A further £350 charge also applies to fix the damaged railings of Pero’s Bridge.  

MailOnline can also reveal how Judge Peter Blair QC criticised defence barrister Liam Walker, who had loaded an ‘excessive burden’ on the jury in his closing remarks according to the experienced judge.

In his closing comments, Mr Walker had told the 12 members of the jury: ‘Make no mistake members of the jury, your decision is not just going to be felt in this court room or this city.

‘It will be reverberate around the world. I urge you all to be on the right side of history.’

While the jury were out of the room, Judge Blair criticised Mr Walker for placing undue pressure on the jury, and Mr Walker apologised for his remarks.  

Addressing the jury himself, Judge Blair said: ‘Firstly you must decide the case on the basis of the evidence you have heard in the case.’

He told them to ‘focus their decision making’ on the defendants’ accounts of what happened, and not on the alleged wider impact of the removal of the statue referenced in the defence barristers’ summing up.

‘You must try this case on the evidence you heard before Christmas.’

He continued: ‘Don’t feel under pressure by the comment ‘make no mistake, your decision will reverberate around the world’ and ‘you should be on the right side of history’.’

Judge Blair said it would be ‘quite wrong’ if the jury felt they had ‘some kind of additional burden on your shoulders’. 

Speaking on Thursday, Downing Street insisted vandalism ‘remains a crime’ and it expects police to take it ‘seriously’ despite the ruling in the Edward Colston statue case.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: ‘Rightly we would never comment on individual jury decisions, which we respect. But we expect the police to take all crimes seriously, including vandalism or public damage to property.

‘We’ve been clear it’s always legitimate to examine and challenge Britain’s history but we should retain and explain our heritage so more people can understand our nation’s past to its fullest.

‘Vandalism of any sort remains a crime, we expect police to take all crimes seriously. 

‘You’ll know that we are changing the law to ensure those found guilty of desecrating or damaging a memorial face a punishment that better reflects the high sentimental and emotional impact these actions can have.’

It comes as historian David Olusoga, who provided expert testimony for the defence at Bristol Crown Court despite concerns being raised by the prosecution, welcomed the jury’s verdict.

Judge Peter Blair QC allowed Mr Olusoga to provide evidence despite the prosecution pointing out a potential conflict of interest due to the presenter’s past comments that he ‘desperately’ wanted to join Black Lives Matter protestors. 

Top defence barrister APOLOGISED for placing ‘excessive burden’ on jury in Colston vandals trial

MailOnline can reveal how the judge slammed a leading defence barrister for the Colston Four, before allowing ‘political’ evidence to be heard.

Judge Peter Blair QC criticised defence barrister Liam Walker, who was accused of loading an ‘excessive burden’ on the jury in his closing remarks according to the experienced judge.

In his closing comments, Mr Walker had told the 12 Bristol-based members of the jury: ‘Make no mistake members of the jury, your decision is not just going to be felt in this court room or this city.

‘It will be reverberate around the world. I urge you all to be on the right side of history.’

While the jury had left the main courtroom, Judge Blair criticised Mr Walker for placing undue pressure on the jury, and Mr Walker apologised for his remarks.  

Judge Peter Blair QC (pictured) criticised defence barrister Liam Walker, who was accused of loading an 'excessive burden' on the jury in his closing remarks

Judge Peter Blair QC (pictured) criticised defence barrister Liam Walker, who was accused of loading an 'excessive burden' on the jury in his closing remarks

Judge Peter Blair QC (pictured) criticised defence barrister Liam Walker, who was accused of loading an ‘excessive burden’ on the jury in his closing remarks

Addressing the jury himself, Judge Blair said: ‘Firstly you must decide the case on the basis of the evidence you have heard in the case.’

He told them to ‘focus their decision making’ on the defendants’ accounts of what happened, and not on the alleged wider impact of the removal of the statue referenced in the defence barristers’ summing up.

‘You must try this case on the evidence you heard before Christmas.’

Judge Blair had earlier allowed TV historian David Olusoga to provide evidence despite the prosecution pointing out a potential conflict of interest due to the presenter’s past comments that he ‘desperately’ wanted to join Black Lives Matter protestors. 

<!—->

Advertisement

He told Good Morning Britain on Thursday: ‘That statue standing there for 125 years was validating the career of a mass murderer.

‘And to people whose ancestors were enslaved by Colston and men like him, it is offensive, and you can talk to thousands of people in Bristol who found it offensive.

‘I think what this verdict shows is that when people are given the evidence about Edward Colston, about Britain’s involvement in slavery, and about the rather strange story about the cult that was built in Bristol in the 19th century around Edward Colston, when they get that information directly rather than through tabloids or journalists or politicians, then they actually react to the evidence rather than to the culture war drum beat that is built around it.

‘Most people don’t understand the details of this history, of this statue, and the long campaign to have it removed peacefully.’

Mr Olusoga has previously been highly critical of former Prime Minister Winston Churchill – accusing him of being involved in activities in Africa that would today be considered war crimes. 

While accepting the former PM was a ‘national hero’, Olusoga said in 2018: ‘While I’m personally glad that Churchill overcame Halifax in early 1940 and it was Churchill who faced the Nazis that year and the years that followed, that doesn’t mean that he wasn’t somebody that wasn’t responsible, or largely responsible, for the Bengal famine [of 1943-44].

‘It doesn’t mean that he wasn’t someone who took part in things we would consider war crimes in Africa. It doesn’t mean that his views, the things he espoused, were shocking to members of his Cabinet, never mind to people at the time. 

‘Both of those things are true. Both of those Churchills exist. We’re going to have to accommodate the fact that these things are true, and there are two sides to these stories and we’re not good at it.’ 

Cleo Lake, former Lord Mayor of Bristol who had previously tried to remove symbols of Colston in the city, also spoke in favour of the defendants who were on trial. 

She told the court that she was ‘shocked, alarmed and startled’ to discover a portrait of the slave trader in the Lord Mayor’s parlour, and tried to have it removed. 

Once a student at Colston Girls’ School in the city, she remembered protests in the mid 1990s from members of Bristol’s Afro-Caribbean community calling for the 17th century bronze memorial to be removed.

Ms Lake told the court she celebrated the toppling of Colston’s statue on June 7, feeling a ‘great sense of relief’ when she watched it fall into the harbour. 

Other witnesses called to trial included charity worker Lloyd Russell, 65, who said his family arrived in Bristol from Jamaica in the 1950s.

He compared living in the diverse community of St Paul to the ‘Bronx of New York’, and explained he attended a mostly white grammar school in Montpelier, where he first faced racism aged 11.

‘At the time I just didn’t want to be at school’, he told Bristol Crown Court. ‘My mum told me how when they came to Bristol there were vigilante white people chucking things through the windows.

‘My father was a proud black man who didn’t heed the warning. He took my mum into Broadmead and they spat in her face.’ 

Sage Willoughby, Jake Skuse, Milo Ponsford and Rhian Graham speak to the media after after receiving a not guilty verdict. Mr Willoughby said: 'He proudly announced: 'We didn't change history, they were whitewashing history by calling him a f***ing virtuous man, sorry to swear, we didn't change history, we rectified history'

Sage Willoughby, Jake Skuse, Milo Ponsford and Rhian Graham speak to the media after after receiving a not guilty verdict. Mr Willoughby said: 'He proudly announced: 'We didn't change history, they were whitewashing history by calling him a f***ing virtuous man, sorry to swear, we didn't change history, we rectified history'

Sage Willoughby, Jake Skuse, Milo Ponsford and Rhian Graham speak to the media after after receiving a not guilty verdict. Mr Willoughby said: ‘He proudly announced: ‘We didn’t change history, they were whitewashing history by calling him a f***ing virtuous man, sorry to swear, we didn’t change history, we rectified history’

Milo Ponsford, left, Sage Willoughby, second left, Jake Skuse , second right in mask, and Rhian Graham right, were cleared of all criminal damage charges at Bristol Crown Court on Wednesday

Milo Ponsford, left, Sage Willoughby, second left, Jake Skuse , second right in mask, and Rhian Graham right, were cleared of all criminal damage charges at Bristol Crown Court on Wednesday

Milo Ponsford, left, Sage Willoughby, second left, Jake Skuse , second right in mask, and Rhian Graham right, were cleared of all criminal damage charges at Bristol Crown Court on Wednesday

Milo Ponsford and Rhian Graham were pictured laughing and smiling outside the courtroom this evening. Speaking after the verdict was announced, Ms Graham said the defendants' actions admitted the group were 'ecstatic' at the jury's decision.

Milo Ponsford and Rhian Graham were pictured laughing and smiling outside the courtroom this evening. Speaking after the verdict was announced, Ms Graham said the defendants' actions admitted the group were 'ecstatic' at the jury's decision.

Milo Ponsford and Rhian Graham were pictured laughing and smiling outside the courtroom this evening. Speaking after the verdict was announced, Ms Graham said the defendants’ actions admitted the group were ‘ecstatic’ at the jury’s decision.

The bronze memorial to the 17th century merchant Edward Colston was pulled down on June 7 last year during a Black Lives Matter protest, and was later dumped in the harbour (pictured)

The bronze memorial to the 17th century merchant Edward Colston was pulled down on June 7 last year during a Black Lives Matter protest, and was later dumped in the harbour (pictured)

The bronze memorial to the 17th century merchant Edward Colston was pulled down on June 7 last year during a Black Lives Matter protest, and was later dumped in the harbour (pictured)

Questions have been asked over who will now pay the estimated £3,750 in damage that was done to the statue after it was torn from its plinth. Pictured: The statue of Edward Colston is retrieved from Bristol Harbour on June 11, 2020

Questions have been asked over who will now pay the estimated £3,750 in damage that was done to the statue after it was torn from its plinth. Pictured: The statue of Edward Colston is retrieved from Bristol Harbour on June 11, 2020

Questions have been asked over who will now pay the estimated £3,750 in damage that was done to the statue after it was torn from its plinth. Pictured: The statue of Edward Colston is retrieved from Bristol Harbour on June 11, 2020

A large crowd, some armed with placards that said they stood with the 'Colston statue topplers' gathered outside Bristol Crown Court to show their support on Wednesday

A large crowd, some armed with placards that said they stood with the 'Colston statue topplers' gathered outside Bristol Crown Court to show their support on Wednesday

A large crowd, some armed with placards that said they stood with the ‘Colston statue topplers’ gathered outside Bristol Crown Court to show their support on Wednesday

Cleo Lake, former Lord Mayor of Bristol who had previously tried to remove symbols of Colston in the city, admitted she celebrated the toppling of Colston's statue on June 7as she spoke in favour of the defendants at Bristol Crown Court

Cleo Lake, former Lord Mayor of Bristol who had previously tried to remove symbols of Colston in the city, admitted she celebrated the toppling of Colston's statue on June 7as she spoke in favour of the defendants at Bristol Crown Court

Cleo Lake, former Lord Mayor of Bristol who had previously tried to remove symbols of Colston in the city, admitted she celebrated the toppling of Colston’s statue on June 7as she spoke in favour of the defendants at Bristol Crown Court

New Government bill that could see vandals handed 10 year prison term for damaging memorials 

The Government’s Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill includes new legislation that could see criminals handed a 10-year jail term if they are found guilty of damaging statues. 

The move comes after a host of memorials and statues across the country have been damaged in the past year as a result of increasing tensions over Britain’s colonial history.

Under current law, criminal damage is an either way offence that can either see a defendant fined or sent to prison.

At present, if the damage caused by the defendant is less than £5,000, the case is considered a summary trial, meaning it must be heard by magistrates and carries a maximum punishment of 3 months imprisonment or a fine of up to £2,500.

The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill will scrap the monetary divide that currently impacts sentencing powers when it comes to the criminal damage of memorials.

It will also cover structures like the Cenotaph and any other similar monuments installed to commemorate a person or animal alive or dead. 

The new mode of trial will ensure the monetary damage caused to the statue will not impact which court hears the case, and the maximum sentence of imprisonment will be ten years behind bars. 

The proposed rules come amid public fury over the destruction of statues and memorials, and perceived limitations on the court’s powers to punish offenders, over the past 18 months. 

<!—->

Advertisement

The bronze memorial to 17th century merchant Colston was pulled down in Bristol on June 7, 2020 and was later dumped in the harbour during an anti-racism demonstration, one of the many that swept the globe in the wake of the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis. 

The four defendants opted not to have their case dealt with by a district judge or in a magistrates’ court. Instead, they opted to be tried by a Crown Court jury in Bristol, which is well-known for its activism. 

Mr Willoughby let fly an expletive-laden rant outside court, as he too justified the group’s actions. ‘We didn’t change history, they were whitewashing history by calling him a f***ing virtuous man, sorry to swear, we didn’t change history, we rectified history,’ he said.  

Mr Skuse, wearing black baseball cap, said the verdict was ‘for once the right decision,’ and thanked graffiti artist Banksy for designing limited edition t-shirts which they wore outside court.

Mr Ponsford issued a ‘big thank you’ to jurors for ‘being on the right side of history’. 

Ms Graham told Good Morning Britain on Thursday that she never ‘felt like a criminal’ throughout the trial and denied the verdict set a precedent condoning political vandalism.

She said: ‘I completely understand people’s concerns and I really don’t think this is a green light for everyone to just start pulling down statues.

‘This moment is about this statue in this city in this time.

‘I will leave the fate of monuments in other cities to the citizens of those cities.’

Ms Graham also claimed that the Colston statue’s value had been estimated to have risen from around £6,000 to more than £150,000 and potentially up to £300,000 since it had been toppled.

The prosecution’s argument that the case was about the rule of law and not politics was repeated vehemently by critics, who raised concerns the not-guilty verdict would set a precedent for further vandalism and dangerous identity politics. 

Graham, Ponsford and Willoughby were accused of helping pull down the monument, while Skuse allegedly orchestrated it being rolled to the water and thrown in. 

Despite the two-week trial revolving around the criminal damage charge, the defence argued the protestors’ actions were justified, at one point urging members of the jury to ‘be on the right side of history’. 

The defence said the statue, erected in 1895, memorialised a man who prospered from the slave trade, caused offence to people in the city and had not been removed despite repeated campaigns. 

The decision to acquit the defendants also raises the question of who will now pay the estimated £3,750 in damage that was done to the statue after it was torn from its plinth. 

Who are the four protesters who toppled the statue of slave trader Edward Colston? 

Ms Graham, from Bristol, works as a stage manager in the theatre industry

Ms Graham, from Bristol, works as a stage manager in the theatre industry

Ms Graham, from Bristol, works as a stage manager in the theatre industry

Rhian Graham, 30

Ms Graham, from Bristol, works as a stage manager in the theatre industry. 

She is also the half sister of British pop star Rag ‘n’ Bone Man. 

In a page on jobs website Mandy.com, she says she has been ‘singing and dancing’ she she was a child and more recently performed as an ‘aerial hoop artist’. 

The Bristol resident added on LinkedIn: ‘I love anything circus, festivals and creating temporary spaces for people to experience.’ 

She holds a degree in Arts and Event Management from Arts University Bournemouth.

Ms Graham said during her trial that before helping to tear down the statue of Colston, she had signed petitions calling for it to be removed. 

She claimed she did not originally have a background in politics or activism but, from 2019, had ‘started to make more friends who had more of a passion for history, politics and equality.’

‘I felt a bit embarrassed about my own knowledge and felt I needed to try and engage more with the world.’ 

Ponsford, 26, works as a carpenter and lives in a motorhome in Bristol

Ponsford, 26, works as a carpenter and lives in a motorhome in Bristol

Ponsford, 26, works as a carpenter and lives in a motorhome in Bristol

Milo Ponsford, 26

Ponsford, 26, works as a carpenter and lives in a motorhome in Bristol. 

During the trial at Bristol Crown Court, he said he was ‘usually a reserved and professional individual.’

The carpenter supplied one of the two ropes which were used on June 7 to haul the statue of Colston off its plinth. 

He was later seen jumping on the statue and trying to pull Colston’s staff away.  

Ponsford, 26, works as a carpenter and lives in a motorhome in Bristol

Ponsford, 26, works as a carpenter and lives in a motorhome in Bristol

Ponsford, 26, works as a carpenter and lives in a motorhome in Bristol

Sage Willoughby, 22

Willoughby, also from Bristol, is the youngest of the group of four who tore down the statue. 

Unlike Ponsford, who was arrested at his motorhome after the statue was toppled, Willoughby attended a police interview voluntarily. 

Jurors heard at the trial at Bristol Crown Court that Willoughby, a keen climber, had tied a rope around the neck of the statue, before Ponsford and Graham pulled on the ropes. 

Willoughby said in court that he had been signing petitions to have the statue removed ‘since he was 11 years old’ and added that its toppling of the statue had been an ‘act of love, not violence’. 

He said he had grown up in the St Pauls area of Bristol, which has a large Afro-Caribbean population.

As a result, he said he believed having the statue of Colston in the city was an ‘insult’ and he would continue to believe that whatever the outcome of this [trial].’  

Skuse, also from Bristol, did not take part in the toppling of the statue but was charged with criminal damage after helping to roll it to Bristol's harbour, where it was dropped in the water

Skuse, also from Bristol, did not take part in the toppling of the statue but was charged with criminal damage after helping to roll it to Bristol's harbour, where it was dropped in the water

Skuse, also from Bristol, did not take part in the toppling of the statue but was charged with criminal damage after helping to roll it to Bristol’s harbour, where it was dropped in the water

Jake Skuse, 33

Skuse, also from Bristol, did not take part in the toppling of the statue but was charged with criminal damage after helping to roll it to Bristol’s harbour, where it was dropped in the water.

During his trial, he said he had attempted to ‘sentence the statue to his death’ before tossing it into the harbour.  

He claimed to have not seen the initial toppling but arrived later and got carried away with the ‘hype’ of the moment. 

Skuse said he was inspired to throw the statue in the water after his ‘foot was getting sore’ from kicking the solid bronze monument.    

However, the activist admitted that his knowledge of Colston beforehand had been limited to conversations he had had with others and reading the plaque on the statue’s plinth.

<!—->

Advertisement

A further £350 charge also applies to fix the damaged railings of Pero’s Bridge. 

‘It’s felt just out of reach for a long time, I’ve always felt hopeful but had to remain grounded in that it could have gone either way, but here we are. Just thank you, thank you so much for sitting and listening,’ said Ms Graham, who is the half-sister of pop star Rag ‘n’ Bone Man. 

Throughout the trial, the protestors did not disagree that they were the ones who orchestrated the demise of the statue, but argued their actions were accounted for because the statue itself had been a hate crime against the people of Bristol. 

The four defendants laughed as they were today cleared of criminal damage charges, and hugged supporters as they left the courtroom.   

Speaking outside court on Wednesday, Ms Graham said: ‘We are ecstatic and stunned. I tried to write something ready for this moment and I’m just so overwhelmed because it never felt like we’d get here and now we’re here.

‘There were so many people that day, so many people reverberating across the world in response to it… thanks to really key people, obviously our legal team who have been incredible. I can’t thank them enough for getting us through this.

‘Everybody on the day, those 10,000 people who marched through the streets of Bristol in the name of equality for our love. 

‘All the rope-pullers, the statue-climbers, the rollers, the egg-throwers, the marchers, the placard-holders, all those people, you lot are incredible, and the international topplers – the people that went and took their agency and went and did something in their hometown and changed the landscape of their place.

‘One thing that we know now is how Colston does not represent Bristol.’

Ms Graham said: ‘That is one thing that has been a really big lesson to me, being able to take agency in my own life.

‘We all have the ability to say how our space is decorated and who we venerate and who we celebrate and one thing we know now is that Colston does not represent Bristol.’

Mr Willoughby denied the group were trying to edit history.

He said: ‘We didn’t change history, they were whitewashing history by calling (Colston) a f****** virtuous man – sorry to swear.

‘We didn’t change history, we rectified it.’

He continued: ‘This is a victory for Bristol, this is a victory for racial equality and it’s a victory for anybody who wants to be on the right side of history.’ 

Some big names lent their support to the defendants, including TV historian and author Professor David Olusoga who gave expert evidence on the history of slavery.

Former Bristol lord mayor Cleo Lake came to court to recount her own struggle to have Colston’s picture removed from her office, while street artist Banksy designed a limited-edition T-shirt to raise funds for the defendants.

The Mayor of Bristol Marvin Rees has spoken of his surprise that four people were cleared of criminal damage for pulling down the statue of slave trader Edward Colston.

Mr Rees, the first black mayor elected in the UK, said he was focusing on tackling racism and inequality in Bristol rather than following the outcome of the Colston trial.

‘Well I didn’t really have much reaction at all to be perfectly honest with you,’ he told Times Radio.

‘Although it’s a big story and many people in the city are quite excited about it, what is happening to those four particular individuals has very little to do with what we’re actually trying to get done in the city, in driving the city’s ambition tackling race and class inequalities within Bristol.

‘It really doesn’t have much bearing on it, I’ll admit you know I was quite surprised but, you know, the verdict itself is between them, the jury and the judge.’

Mr Rees said he wanted to do ‘real politics’ around tackling racism and inequality and removing statues was ‘not top of that list’.

‘I’d also say around this that while statues, and what we choose to publicly celebrate is important, it’s not everything,’ Mr Rees said.

‘Let’s make sure that we don’t end up talking about symbolic events that captured the imagination but not if they come at the cost of doing real substantial politics.’

He said the issue of Colston’s legacy in Bristol was very complicated but those who wanted to ‘indulge your own fantasies of being a revolutionary’ were not welcome.

‘This isn’t the place to come to do criminal damage, come and smash police stations and all the rest of it,’ he said.

‘The simplistic thing that people are trying to push here is that somehow they – the people that pulled down a statue – are the embodiment of anti-racism and everything that didn’t support them in the way that they say they should have been supporting are pro the status quo.

‘I’d say it’s a little bit more complicated than that. Do I lament the absence of the statue? No, but that’s one debate. The question of how it was taken down is another question.

‘We’re not encouraging criminal damage, we’re not encouraging disorder in Bristol, but we are encouraging challenge and change to the way the city and the country has worked historically, which is a way that has compounded inequality.’

The former Bristol Mayor who celebrated the toppling of Colston statue and spoke for defence 

Cleo Lake, former Lord Mayor of Bristol who had previously tried to remove symbols of Edward Colston in the city, spoke for the defendants who were on trial. 

While being quizzed by the defence, the Green Party politician admitted she celebrated the toppling of Colston’s statue on June 7.

She told the court that she was ‘shocked, alarmed and startled’ to discover a portrait of the slave trader in the Lord Mayor’s parlour, and tried to have it removed. 

Cleo Lake

Cleo Lake

Cleo Lake

Once a student at Colston Girls’ School in the city, she remembered protests in the mid 1990s from members of Bristol’s Afro-Caribbean community calling for the 17th century bronze memorial to be removed.

Ms Lake told the court she celebrated the toppling of Colston’s statue on June 7, feeling a ‘great sense of relief’ when she watched it fall into the harbour. 

 

<!—->

Advertisement

During trial, the prosecution said it was ‘irrelevant’ who Colston was, and the case was one of straightforward criminal damage.

Reacting to the defendants being cleared, campaign group Save Our Statues tweeted: ‘Colston statue accused defy justice. Verdict not only gives the green light to political vandalism, but also legitimises the divisive identity politics it helped succour.’ 

Conservative commentator Darren Grimes questioned: ‘I cannot believe this news about those who toppled the statue of Edward Colston being found not guilty of criminal damage. 

‘Are we really now a country that says you can destroy public property as long as you’re doing it for a purportedly noble political cause?’

Commons leader Jacob Rees-Mogg described the jury system as one of the UK’s ‘greatest monuments’ after criticism from Conservative MPs that the verdict set a bad precedent for future ‘defacement’ of public monuments.

He told MPs: ‘I don’t think the result in Bristol does do that, because the decision does not set a precedent. It was a case decided by a jury on the facts before them.

‘I shall not be going out of here immediately afterwards and drawing a moustache on the statue of Oliver Cromwell outside, much though I am opposed to regicides in principle and think that they deserve to be removed from pedestals, broadly speaking. I think we should recognise our history even when the figures in that history are not ones that we individually admire.’

As he responded to Conservative MP for Kettering Philip Hollobone, he added: ‘I think he is right that we should protect monuments, right that they should be removed by due process, but one of our greatest monuments is the jury system which is the greatest protector of our liberties.’

Mr Hollobone had called for a statement from the Commons Speaker setting out that statues must be removed by ‘lawful means’ if they are to be removed at all.

He added: ‘If the Government doesn’t make this clear, those monuments that some people don’t like, as result of the recent court case in Bristol, are now at greater risk of defacement, destruction or removal.’

Former Government minister Robert Jenrick, the Conservative MP for Newark, said on Twitter: ‘We undermine the rule of law, which underpins our democracy, if we accept vandalism and criminal damage are acceptable forms of political protest. They aren’t. Regardless of the intentions.’

But legal commentator David Allen Green responded: ‘Jury verdicts do not ‘undermine the rule of law’. Jury verdicts are part of the rule of law. An acquittal is as much an aspect of due process as a conviction.’

Source: Daily Mail UK

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *