29 February 2024 7:38 pm

‘Colston 4’ verdict is one for the history books

The lowering of the statue of Edward Colston into the Bristol Harbour
Image © Keir Gravil

During the Summer of 2020, a series of Black Lives Matter protests took place globally after the murder of African-American, George Floyd, by Derek Chauvin, a former US police officer who was later found guilty of second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.
Britain, has a horrific colonial past, that many, especially the political class, seem unapologetic about. However, the younger generation have demonstrated that they are ashamed and want to make the country a better place for minority groups.
In Bristol, instead of the usual protest on the streets, activists decided to pull down the statue of Slave Merchant, Edward Colston (1636-1721), in support of Black Lives Matter. The statue was then sprayed with graffiti before being pushed into Bristol Harbour.
There was a mixed reaction to this. BLM supporters and those who identified as left wing or liberals were happy the statue was gone as it was a “symbol of British Imperialism”. But Conservatives and history lovers were horrified that people wanted to take down statues of colonialists. Fearing this was “erasing British history”. Home Secretary, Priti Patel, who describes herself as a ‘Thatcherite’, said that the toppling of the statue was the result of “mob rule” and that it was “utterly disgraceful” that it was taken down. In the House of Commons, she claimed that “those responsible must be brought to justice”. Statue protectors decided to assist the police in protecting the statue of Winston Churchill in London.
Jake Skuse, Rhian Graham, Milo Ponsford and Sage Willoughby, nicknamed the ‘Colston 4’, were brought to trial with hundreds of supporters. During the trial, historian David Olusoga, was brought in to give expert evidence. He described how Colston was the shareholder and eventual head of Britain’s “most important slave-owning enterprise”, the Royal African Company. It is estimated that over 85,000 Africans (including 12,000 children) were kidnapped and enslaved during his tenure.
Journalist Nadine White, who is the Race Correspondent for The Independent, took to Twitter to describe what slaves endured. “Enslaved Black people would be branded with a hot iron before being packed in tightly & chained to the decks of the ships bound for the Caribbean. Colston oversaw these atrocities and benefitted financially…”.
The ‘Colston 4’ admitted that they vandalised the statue but denied that their actions were criminal, claiming “the statue itself had been a hate crime against the people of Bristol”. On the 5th of January, a jury at Bristol Crown Court found the ‘Colston 4’ not guilty. It is clear that the jury was on the right side of history when they claim to this conclusion.
For some time, residents in Bristol have asked Bristol City Council to remove the statue of Edward Colston and there was a debate about the future of the statue in the city. Thankfully the Colston 4 did the work for Bristol City Council and the statue now is on display in M Shed Museum.
After court, Sage Willoughby 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”.

While the verdict has not set a precedent and this doesn’t mean one can tear down any statue they like now, nonetheless, it is still historical. A big reason why the ‘Colston 4’ were acquitted was because of Colston’s horrific past. Hopefully, now other councils will remove the statues of slave traders in their cities or towns. Britain certainly needs to address its colonial past in schools and universities, instead of being revisionists.

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