Colston statue trial jury urged to ‘be on the right side of history’ | Bristol


A jury has been called on to “be on the right side of history” by acquitting four defendants charged with criminal damages for the overturning of the statue of slave trader Edward Colston.

In closing speeches in Bristol Crown Court on Tuesday, lawyers for the defendants argued that the statue, which towered over the multicultural South West city for 125 years, was so indecent and potentially abusive as to constitute a crime.

“Make no mistake, members of the jury, your decision will not only be felt in this courtroom or in this city,” said Liam Walker QC, representing Sage Willoughby. “It will reverberate around the world. I urge you all to be on the right side of the story.

Rhian Graham, 30, Milo Ponsford, 26, and Sage Willoughby, 22, are accused along with “other strangers” of helping tie ropes around the statue’s neck and using them to pull it from its plinth in Bristol during a Black Lives Matter event on June 7, 2020.

They are on trial alongside Jake Skuse, 33, accused of helping to ship him to Bristol harbor, where he was dumped into the River Avon. All argued that their actions were justified by the offense caused by the statue.

“Each of those defendants were on the right side of history, and I think they were on the right side of the law as well,” Walker said. “Colston’s actions may be historic, but his continued reverence in this town was not. The continued worship of him in a vibrant multicultural city was an act of abuse.

“The Colston statue normalized the abuse. He tolerated the acceptance of racism by shrugging his shoulders. He celebrated the accomplishments of a racist mass murderer. The continued existence of this statue was a racist hate crime.

Defendants Rhian Graham (second from right) and Milo Ponsford (right) return to Bristol Crown Court after lunch on closing day of oral argument. Photograph: Finnbarr Webster / Getty Images

Tom Wainwright, representing Ponsford, suggested that the statue’s historical significance, and therefore value, was increased by its overthrow – that instead of destroying history, those on trial had “created history”, while correcting the Colston crime file.

“You might think it would bring the criminal justice system into disrepute if a person were found guilty of causing criminal damage to something by adding value to it, making it better,” Wainwright said. “Ask yourself: What was this statue worth before June 7, 2020, and what is it worth now? “

Closing for the crown, William Hughes QC told jurors it was not Colston who was on trial.

“We made it clear when we first spoke to you at the outset of this matter that we did not dispute that Edward Colston’s story was inundated with his direct involvement in the slave trade,” said Hughes. .

“You have heard detailed and very moving testimony in this regard from David Olusoga. We are not Edward Colston’s apologists, but he and his ilk are not judged. “

Hughes said that despite the many testimonies heard about Colston and Bristol’s involvement in the slave trade; the impact of the statue on the city’s current black residents; and the inability of local politicians to take action, the trial was “not a public inquiry”, not about politics or emotions.

“This trial is about hard and cold facts and it’s fundamentally about the rule of law,” Hughes said. “If we can just remove what offends us, whatever the opinions of others, what are the next statues, institutions or buildings, you might ask.” “

Skuse, Graham, Ponsford and Willoughby all deny criminal damages. The trial continues.


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