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FOUR protesters have been found not guilty of criminal damage after toppling a statue of slave trader Edward Colston during a Black Lives Matter demo in Bristol.
Rhian Graham, 30, Milo Ponsford, 26, Sage Willoughby, 22, and Jake Skuse, 33, were cleared at Bristol Crown Court this afternoon of the charges following a 10-day trial.
The four along with “persons unknown” were accused of putting ropes around the neck of the bronze figure and pulling it to the ground during the demo in June 2020. Protesters then rolled the 17th-century slave merchant into Bristol harbour.
During the trial, the four did not contest their actions but claimed that they were justifiable.
Loud cheers were heard from the packed public gallery after the not guilty verdicts were returned on this afternoon.
Speaking outside the court, Sage Willoughby described the verdict as 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.”
In a statement, Raj Chada, who represented Mr Skuse, said: “The truth is that the defendants should never have been prosecuted.
“It is shameful that Bristol City Council did not take down the statue of slaver Edward Colston that had caused such offence to people in Bristol and equally shameful that they then supported the prosecution of these defendants.”
During the 10-day trial the prosecution had argued that the fact Colston was a slave trader was “wholly irrelevant,” and that the case was about the “rule of law.”
Blinne Ni Ghralaigh of Matrix Chambers, for Ms Graham, stated: “This case demonstrates the fundamental importance of trial by jury.
“That is because juries represent the collective sense of justice of the community.
“In this case, they 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.”
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