United Kingdom

'Colston Four' plead not guilty to criminal damage

Four people charged with criminal damage following the toppling of a statue of slave trader Edward Colston have today entered not guilty pleas.

The bronze figure was pulled down during a Black Lives Matter protest before being thrown into Bristol Harbour on June 7.   

Rhian Graham, 29, Milo Ponsford, 25, Jake Skuse, 36, and Sage Willoughby, 21 appeared before Bristol Crown Court. 

Charges allege the four defendants, without lawful excuse, jointly and with others, damaged the statue of Colston, a listed monument belonging to Bristol City Council. 

It is claimed that the defendants committed the offence 'intending to destroy or damage such property or being reckless as to whether such property would be destroyed or damaged'. 

Pictured L-R: Milo Ponsford, Rhian Graham and Jake Skuse, who today appeared at Bristol Crown Court charged with criminal damage over the toppling of the Edward Colston statue

Sage Willoughby arrives at Bristol Crown Court today ahead of entering a not guilty plea

All four defendants pleaded not guilty to the charge against them during the hearing at Bristol Crown Court.

They were bailed and a trial is due to start on December 13.    

Judge Peter Blair QC, said: 'You have pleaded not guilty and therefore I am fixing a trial date of December 13 for you which you must attend without fail on that day and the subsequent days.

'We estimate that it will go into a second week. I am suggesting probably setting aside seven to eight days so you need to make sure that your diaries are so arranged.

'There will be a hearing on November 8 to take stock of the case and make sure that everyone is working successfully towards your trial date.

Charges allege the four defendants, without lawful excuse, jointly and with others, damaged the statue of Colston, a listed monument belonging to Bristol City Council

'You don't have to attend but you may attend if you wish. Your counsel may attend by video link.

'You are on unconditional bail and that will continue, so you are free to leave.'   

The next hearing in the case will take place on November 8 at Bristol Crown Court.

The statue, worth £3,750, was dumped in Bristol Harbour after being toppled during a Black Lives Matter rally on June 7, before being recovered by Bristol City Council on June 11.

After Colston's statue was torn down in Bristol, protesters across the UK challenged a number of long-standing monuments which celebrated people with links to slavery or colonialism.    

Police launched an investigation after a statue of the controversial slave trader was pulled down and dumped in the city's harbour on April 7 during a protest against racial inequality

 The statue, worth £3,750, was dumped in Bristol Harbour after being toppled during a Black Lives Matter rally on June 7, before being recovered by Bristol City Council on June 11

Governors at Oriel College, Oxford voted to remove a statue of imperialist and mining magnate Cecil Rhodes from the building following the Bristol protest. 

A statue to Winston Churchill was also defaced, with the words 'was a racist' and 'f*** your agenda' written underneath the memorial to the wartime PM in Westminster Square, London.      

Ahead of the hearing, the London-based legal firm representing three of the four defendants, said it would fight the charges 'vigorously'. 

Raj Chada, head of criminal defence, and Laura O'Brien, associate, at Hodge Jones & Allen said: 'We are committed to defending them and their right to a fair trial in this important case. We ask that their privacy is respected.' 

Edward Colston: Beloved son of Bristol and wealthy slave trader

Edward Colston was integral in the Royal African Company, which had complete control of Britain's slave trade

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.

However, after years of protests by campaigners and boycotts by artists the venue recently agreed to remove all reference of the trader. 

On a statue commemorating Colston in Bristol, a plaque read: 'Erected by citizens of Bristol as a memorial of one of the most virtuous and wise sons of their city.' 

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. 

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