Four face court charged with criminal damage after toppling of Colston statue

Four people will appear in court charged with criminal damage following the toppling of a statue of slave trader Edward Colston in Bristol.

Rhian Graham, 29, Milo Ponsford, 25, Jake Skuse, 32, and Sage Willoughby, 21, all of no fixed abode, will appear before Bristol Magistrates’ Court for their first hearing on Monday.

The bronze memorial to the 17th century slave merchant was pulled down during a Black Lives Matter protest on June 7 last year, before being dumped in Bristol Harbour.

It was later recovered from the water by Bristol City Council and assessed to have suffered £3,750 worth of damage.

No arrests were made at the time but Avon and Somerset Police launched an investigation and in December, the Crown Prosecution Service said it had authorised charges against four people.

Speaking ahead of the court hearing, a spokeswoman for Avon and Somerset Police said anyone planning to attend to protest against the case would be breaking the law.

Current coronavirus regulations prohibit gatherings of more than two people and while there are certain exemptions, protests are not permitted.

An event was originally due to take place outside the court on Monday but organisers are now asking people to join an online protest instead, the force said.

Anyone organising a gathering of more than 30 people is liable to a fixed penalty notice of £10,000, while those taking part in a gathering of more than two people can be fined £200.

Inspector Rob Cheeseman said: “We fully recognise the important right to freedom of expression and right to assemble but there is a deadly virus which has killed more than 90,000 people in the UK which simply cannot be ignored.

“There are more people in hospital with the virus than at any time during this pandemic and the NHS is at risk of falling over if people don’t follow the regulations.

“There is no excuse for not knowing the rules as they are very clear and have been very well publicised – people must stay home except for in a very limited set of circumstances.

“Unlike during the first lockdown protests aren’t currently allowed and anyone thinking of flouting the rules and attending a protest is putting others at risk.

“We remain hopeful people will heed our warning and choose to express themselves online rather than in person but as with all events of this nature we have a comprehensive policing plan should people gather.”

Following the toppling of the statue, officers reviewed CCTV footage and other pictures and video to identify those believed to be involved.

One man was arrested, with seven men and one woman asked to attend a police station for a voluntary interview.

In September, Avon and Somerset Police said detectives would approach the CPS for a charging decision against four people – three men and a woman.

The five other people – men aged 18, 20, 29, 33 and 47 – were offered a conditional caution for the offence of causing criminal damage to property valued under £5,000.

Under the conditions of the caution, they had to complete a questionnaire from a history commission set up by Bristol City Council.

They had to pay a fine of £100, which would be sent to Bristol-based charity Nilaari, and take part in two hours of environmental improvement works arranged by Bristol City Council.