BLM Activists Who Toppled Slave Trader Statue Cleared of Criminal Damage

The four protesters didn't deny pulling down a statue of slave trader Edward Colston in June 2020 and rolling it into Bristol harbour, but said their actions were justified.
Four protesters celebrate after receiving a not guilty verdict at Bristol Crown Court. Photo: Finnbarr Webster/Getty Images​
Four protesters celebrate after receiving a not guilty verdict at Bristol Crown Court. Photo: Finnbarr Webster/Getty Images

Four activists who toppled a statue of a prominent slave trader into Bristol harbour in southwest England, have been found not guilty of criminal damages. 

On the 7th of June 2020, activists tied ropes around the statue of Edward Colston, an 18th century Conservative MP involved in the Atlantic slave trade, before toppling it and dumping it in the city’s harbour.

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The toppling of the Edward Colston statue – first erected in 1895 – marked an important moment in the UK Black Lives Matter protests which took place across the world after the murder of George Floyd in May 2020. Videos of the statue falling into the water were widely shared, garnering millions of views online. 

Rhian Graham, 30, Milo Ponsford, 26, and Sage Willoughby, 22, were accused of wrapping ropes around the statue, alongside “others unknown”. 

Jake Skuse, 33, was accused of rolling the status with others into the Bristol harbour.

During the ten-day trial which took place in Bristol crown court, the defendants – dubbed the Colston Four – never denied their involvement but said their actions were justified due to the offensive nature of the statue, arguing it was akin to an indecent display or a hate crime.

Activists dumping the statue of Colston in Bristol harbour. Photo: Ben Birchall/PA

Activists dumping the statue of Colston in Bristol harbour. Photo: Ben Birchall/PA

Lawyers representing the council claimed Colston’s actions trading human beings was irrelevant, and that the case was about “cold hard facts” and the “rule of law”.

Liam Walker QC, who represented 22-year-old Willoughby said, “Colston’s deeds may be historical but the continued veneration of him in this city was not. The continued veneration of him in a vibrant multicultural city was an act of abuse.”

According to David Olusoga, a prominent historian who testified in the trial in December, Colston was “chief executive officer” of a company responsible for enslaving the most Africans of any company in the entire history of the Atlantic slave trade, which included barbaric acts such as branding children as young as nine years old.