Protesters told to stay away from court hearing of Colston statue accused

Police have warned anyone planning to stage a protest during the court hearing for those accused of pulling down the statue of Edward Colston last summer that they will be breaking the law.

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.

Avon and Somerset Police fear anti-racism protesters will gather outside the court in breach of lockdown rules banning public gatherings of more than two people.

Although there are certain exemptions to the rule, protests are not allowed.

An alternative online protest has been set up but the force said it was concerned some people might still choose to show up outside the court.

Currently, anyone organising a gathering of more than 30 people could face a fine of up to £10,000, while participants can be handed a fixed penalty notice of up to £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.”

He added: “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.”

Mr Cheeseman said Avon and Somerset Police have a “comprehensive” policing plan prepared should people choose to gather.

“We will not stand by and allow a small minority to endanger the health of the vast majority who have sacrificed so much to protect others,” he said.