Four defendants accused of causing criminal damage for pulling down the statue of 17th century slave merchant, Edward Colston’s statue have been found not guilty.
The so-called “Colston Four” were cleared after prosecutors charged them over the toppling of the slave trader’s monument in Bristol during a Black Lives Matter protest in June 2020.
Rhian Graham, 30, Milo Ponsford, 26, Sage Willoughby, 22, and Jake Skuse, 33, laughed with relief when the verdicts were returned as cheers went up from the public gallery.
They hugged the supporters who waited outside Bristol Crown Court.
Willoughby said: “They were whitewashing history by calling him a f***ing virtuous man, sorry to swear, we didn’t change history, we rectified history.”
He added: “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.”
“They lied, we illuminated history,” added Ms Graham, who praised the other protesters present on the day the statue was toppled.
“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 really,” she said.
“There were so many people that day, and so many people reverberating across the world in response to it.”
Colston, a merchant who lived in the 17th and early 18th century, made his fortune through the slave trade.
He donated money to various institutions in Bristol, with buildings often bearing his name, though there has been a drive in the modern era to disassociate from him. That included a bid to remove his controversial statue.
It was ripped down then dragged and rolled about 500 metres to be dumped in the harbour during BLM protest.
The image became an iconic scene in the wave of the anti-racism demonstrations that took place throughout the UK, and globally, after the murder of George Floyd by a white police officer in the US.
It was even brought up during Floyd’s funeral.
Hundreds were present at the scene but only the four defendants were charged with criminal damage.
Prosecutors accused Graham, Ponsford and Willoughby of orchestrating the statue’s toppling, and bringing ropes to do it, and said Skues goaded the crowd into throwing it into the harbour.
The prosecution told jurors it was irrelevant who Colston was, characterising it as a simple case of criminal damage.
However, Tom Wainwright, for Ponsford, painted an analogous picture of the prosecution “standing by with cement and trowel, wringing their hands and muttering about red tape and proper procedures not being followed” when the Berlin Wall was brought down.
He argued the toppling helped heal the wounds of slavery while Liam Walker, for Willoughby, said the jurors’ decision would “reverberate around the world”, urging them to “be on the right side of history”.
The judge had told jurors not to pay attention to the rhetoric about the consequences of their decisions and come up with a verdict based on the evidence presented.
But jurors agreed with the defence and cleared the four of criminal damage on Wednesday.