United Kingdom

Chaos before 'Colston Four' hearing: Police detain cyclist towing boom box blasting reggae

Protesters have been detained outside the criminal damage court case against four people who have denied toppling a statue of slave trader Edward Colston.

Police stopped at least three people outside Bristol Magistrates Court ahead of the first appearance before JPs.

It included one man who arrived on a bicycle towing a big sound system which was blasting out reggae music. 

Avon and Somerset Police thanked those who attended an online protest instead of turning up in person, adding: 'Officers are at the court and have been dealing with a small number of people who ignored warnings not to attend.'

Rhian Graham, 29, Milo Ponsford, 25, Jake Skuse, 32, and Sage Willoughby, 21, all pleaded not guilty over the statue topple inside the courtroom.

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

This reggae-loving cyclist was detained by police outside of the magistrates court

Another supporter of the four accused was led away by officers at the first hearing by JPs

Four people are due in court charged with criminal damage over the toppling of the statue

It was later recovered from the water by Bristol City Council and assessed to have suffered £3,750 worth of damage.

No arrests were made at the time but Avon and Somerset Police launched an investigation and in December, the Crown Prosecution Service said it had authorised charges against four people.

Speaking ahead of the court hearing, a spokeswoman for Avon and Somerset Police said anyone planning to attend to protest against the case would be breaking the law.

Current coronavirus regulations prohibit gatherings of more than two people and while there are certain exemptions, protests are not permitted.

An event was originally due to take place outside the court on Monday but organisers are now asking people to join an online protest instead, the force said.

Anyone organising a gathering of more than 30 people is liable to a fixed penalty notice of £10,000, while those taking part in a gathering of more than two people can be fined £200.

This woman was accompanied away from Bristol Magistrates Court by officers at the scene

Police officers decked out in PPE tackled the small number of protesters outside the venue

Police officers formed a ring of protection around the court ahead of this morning's case

Controversial Colston statue that fell to earth 

Edward Colston was born to a wealthy merchant family in Bristol, 1636.

After working as an apprentice at a livery company he began to explore the shipping industry and started up his own business.

He later joined the Royal African Company and rose up the ranks to Deputy Governor.

The Company had complete control of Britain's slave trade, as well as its gold and Ivory business, with Africa and the forts on the coast of west Africa.

During his tenure at the Company his ships transported around 80,000 slaves from Africa to the Caribbean and America.

Around 20,000 of them, including around 3,000 or more children, died during the journeys. 

Colston's brother Thomas supplied the glass beads that were used to buy the slaves.

Colston became the Conservative MP for Bristol in 1710 but stood only for one term, due to old age and ill health.

He used a lot of his wealth, accrued from his extensive slave trading, to build schools and almshouses in his home city.

A statue was erected in his honour as well as other buildings named after him, including Colston Hall.

In the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests in 2020 sparked by the death of George Floyd in the US, the statue of Colston overlooking the harbour was torn down. 

 

Inspector Rob Cheeseman said: 'We fully recognise the important right to freedom of expression and right to assemble but there is a deadly virus which has killed more than 90,000 people in the UK which simply cannot be ignored. 

'There are more people in hospital with the virus than at any time during this pandemic and the NHS is at risk of falling over if people don't follow the regulations.

'There is no excuse for not knowing the rules as they are very clear and have been very well publicised - people must stay home except for in a very limited set of circumstances.

'Unlike during the first lockdown protests aren't currently allowed and anyone thinking of flouting the rules and attending a protest is putting others at risk.

'We remain hopeful people will heed our warning and choose to express themselves online rather than in person but as with all events of this nature we have a comprehensive policing plan should people gather.'

Following the toppling of the statue, officers reviewed CCTV footage and other pictures and video to identify those believed to be involved.

One man was arrested, with seven men and one woman asked to attend a police station for a voluntary interview.

In September, Avon and Somerset Police said detectives would approach the CPS for a charging decision against four people - three men and a woman.

The five other people - men aged 18, 20, 29, 33 and 47 - were offered a conditional caution for the offence of causing criminal damage to property valued under £5,000.

Under the conditions of the caution, they had to complete a questionnaire from a history commission set up by Bristol City Council.

They had to pay a fine of £100, which would be sent to Bristol-based charity Nilaari, and take part in two hours of environmental improvement works arranged by Bristol City Council.

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