Court of Appeal due to rule on legal issues arising out of ‘Colston Four’ case

The bronze memorial to the 17th-century slave merchant was pulled down during a Black Lives Matter protest in Bristol on June 7 2020.

Black Lives Matter protests
Black Lives Matter protests

A ruling on legal issues arising out of the acquittal of four people who were prosecuted for pulling down a statue of slave trader Edward Colston during a Black Lives Matter protest – the so-called Colston Four – will be delivered by judges.

Court of Appeal judges were told at a hearing in June that the toppling of the statue was an “unacceptable way to engage in political debate”.

The bronze memorial to the 17th-century slave merchant was pulled down during a Black Lives Matter protest in Bristol on June 7 2020, before being rolled into the water.

In January this year, four protesters involved in tearing down the statue were cleared by a jury at Bristol Crown Court of criminal damage.

Black Lives Matter protests
Sage Willoughby, Jake Skuse, Milo Ponsford and Rhian Graham outside Bristol Crown Court (Ben Birchall/PA)

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

Following the jury’s decision, then-attorney general Suella Braverman referred the case to the Court of Appeal so judges could “clarify the law for future cases” – without affecting the four’s acquittals.

At a hearing in London in June, three judges considered the law around the acquittal of Rhian Graham, one of the four.

Lawyers representing the Attorney General’s Office argued at the hearing that pulling down the statue was “a violent act” involving “significant force”.

They said violent acts are not covered by the European Convention on Human Rights’ freedoms of conscience under article 9, expression under article 10 and association under article 11.

Lawyers for Ms Graham said the referral to the Court of Appeal should not have been made, arguing that part of the Attorney General’s case was “no more than a general attack on the use of juries”.

The court was told that Colston played an active role in the enslavement of 84,000 black people, with around 19,000 people dying on slave ships from Africa.

“The statue caused serious distress, offence and harm to Bristolians and others, including black people,” Ms Montgomery said in written submissions.

Human rights organisation Liberty also made representations to the court.

The Lord Chief Justice Lord Burnett, Mr Justice Holgate and Mr Justice Saini are due to give their decision in writing at 12 noon on Wednesday.

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