Four people accused of criminal damage after a statue honouring the notorious slave trader Edward Colston was dragged from its plinth and thrown into Bristol Harbour during a Black Lives Matter protest have been acquitted.
The illegal removal of the bronze statue has split the community for months. Sage Willoughby, Rhian Graham, Milo Ponsford, and Jake Skuse were charged last June.
The public gallery of Bristol Crown Court erupted in loud cheers as the verdicts were returned. The defendants, who are all from Bristol apart from Mr Ponsford, 26, based in Hampshire, laughed and hugged supporters waiting outside after they were released.
Mr Willoughby, 22, was seen taking the knee – a symbolic gesture of the BLM movement. Three of the four defendants also wore t-shirts designed by Banksy, which featured a stencil of the toppled statue’s plinth.
Speaking outside court after being acquitted, Ms Graham said: “We just want to say thank you to so many people because we have never been alone in this journey. “We have been so supported and we are such a small part of this. “There were so many are people that day. So many people reverberating across the world in response to it (the statue’s toppling).” Mr Willoughby denied they were trying to edit history but said others were “whitewashing history” by calling Colston a “virtuous man”.
“We didn’t change history; we rectified it,” he said. “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.”
The public gallery erupted into screams and cheers of joy as the four defendants – who have been named the Colston Four – were cleared of wrongdoing.
Banksy Has Released A T-Shirt To Support Colston Four
Banksy has released a limited-edition t-shirt to raise funds for the four protesters arrested after a statue in Bristol was toppled last year. The criminal damage case involves the statue of Edward Colston, a 17th-century merchant and slave trader.
“Next week, the four people charged with pulling down Colston’s statue in Bristol are going on trial,” the Bristol-based artist stated on his Instagram page last Saturday. “I’ve made some souvenir shirts to mark the occasion.”
The sold out shirts were priced at £25 and available at various places around the city. The artist said that all proceeds from the sales would go to the defendants “so they can go for a pint.”
The Colston Four are aged between 21 and 36 and named as, Rhian Graham, Jake Skuse, Sage Willoughby, and Milo Ponsford. All are facing trial for criminal damage to public property. They have all pleaded not guilty and will stand trial at Bristol crown court this month.