4 Acquitted in Toppling of Slave Trader Statue During Black Lives Matter Protest

Four Bristol, England, protesters were acquitted Wednesday after they argued throwing a statue of a slave trader into the city's harbor was not a crime.

In fact, Rhian Graham, Milo Ponsford, Sage Willoughby, and Jake Skuse said the presence of the bronze statue of Edward Colston, a 17th-century man who made his fortune in the Atlantic slave trade, was a hate crime.

On June 7, 2020, they used ropes to take the statue down and dump it into the harbor as a part of worldwide anti-racism protests following the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

"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," Willoughby said.

After authorities fished the statue out of the water, they placed it in a museum instead of the public park where it had previously stood. Newsweek previously reported that a U.K. school named after Colston would be changing its name due to his links to slavery.

In a statement, Raj Chada, who represented Skuse, said the four 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," he said.

Bristol Harbor, Edward Colston, statue
Four anti-racism demonstrators were cleared January 5, 2022, of criminal damage in the toppling of a statue of a 17th-century slave trader during a Black Lives Matter protest. Above, protesters throw the statue into the Bristol harbor June 7, 2020. Ben Birchall/PA via AP, File

Loud cheers rang out from a packed public gallery at Bristol Crown Court as a jury acquitted Graham, 30, Ponsford, 26, Willoughby, 22, and Skuse, 33.

Graham, Ponsford and Willoughby were caught on closed-circuit television passing the ropes around the statue that were used to pull it down, while Skuse was accused of orchestrating a plan to roll it into the harbor.

All four had admitted their involvement but denied their actions were criminal, claiming the statue itself had been a hate crime against the people of Bristol.

They laughed with relief as the verdicts were read out and hugged the many supporters that were waiting outside of court when they were released.

The four had gotten got high profile help with their case. Elusive street artist Banksy designed a limited edition T-shirt, pledging the funds raised to their cause.

Colston was a 17th-century trader who made a fortune transporting enslaved Africans across the Atlantic to the Americas on Bristol-based ships. His money funded schools and charities in Bristol, 120 miles (195 kilometers) southwest of London.

Bristol authorities fished the Colston statue out of the harbor and it was later put on display in a museum in the city, along with placards from the Black Lives Matter demonstration.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Colston Plinth
People walk past the empty plinth after a statue of Edward Colston was pulled down during a Black Lives Matter demo, in Bristol, England, June 8, 2020. AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth, file