‘Colston four’ who helped tear down slave trader’s statue cleared of all charges

They were accused of criminal damage in tearing down the statue of the 17th century slave trader

Four people have been cleared of  criminal damage in helping to pull down the statue of Edward Colston during a Black Lives Matter protest in June 2020.

Nicknamed the “Colston four”, Sage Willoughby, Rhian Graham, Milo Ponsford and Jake Skuse are the only people to have stood trial for the destruction of the slave trader’s statue. They were  found not guilty by a jury after three hours of deliberation.

Within the courtroom, the public gallery erupted in celebration as the jury returned their verdicts. Standing outside, they were met by an even larger crowd of supporters who have regularly stood outside court in solidarity since their trial began last month on 13th December.

The statue of Edward Colston had stood in the city-centre of Bristol for 125 years before it was pulled down by protestors on 7th June 2020 and dumped in Bristol Harbour.

As a member and later deputy governor of the Royal African Company, Colston profited extensively from the slave trade. Between 1680 and 1692, it shipped 84,000 Africans into slavery. Despite this, he was commemorated throughout Bristol for his philanthropy with multiple roads, buildings and schools named after him.

The plaque underneath his statue made no reference to his involvement in the slave trade. Instead, it read: “As a memorial of one of the most virtuous and wise sons of the city.”

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

Outside court, 22-year-old Sage Willoughby addressed the crowd saying: “We didn’t change history, they were whitewashing history by calling him a f****** virtuous man, sorry to swear, we didn’t change history, we rectified it.”

The protestors did not deny damaging the statue but contested whether this should be considered criminal. Rhian Graham, coincidentally of Colston Road in Easton, said “whether it was criminal or not is up for debate”.

She went on to say: “We were removing a symbol of great harm and oppression that towered over our community and offended so many”.

Liam Walker QC, representing Sage Willoughby, told the courtroom: “Colston’s statue normalised abuse. It condoned the acceptance of racism. It celebrated the achievements of a racist mass murderer. The continued existence of that statue was a racist hate crime.”

‘Cold, hard facts’

Prosecutor, William Hughes QC, argued this was an issue of “cold, hard facts”.

“If we can simply pull down what offends us, regardless of the view of others, then what statues, institutions or buildings, are next?” he asked.

After the verdict, Rhian Graham’s representative, Blinne Ni Gralaigh, stressed the importance that the case was decided by a jury.

She said: “In this case, they [the jury] determined that a conviction for the removal of this statue that glorified a slave trader involved in the enslavement of over 84,000 black men, women and children as a ‘most virtuous and wise’ man – would not be proportionate.”

Featured Image Credit: Twitter/@BristolActivist

Related stories recommended by this writer:

Exclusive: We spoke to the man who pulled down the Colston statue in Bristol

‘Colston Four’ appear in court amid protests and arrests

Graffitied Colston statue to go on display in Bristol museum next week