By a majority of 11 to one a jury has found the Colston 4 not guilty of criminal damage for the toppling of the statue of Edward Colston.
Speaking from outside Bristol Crown Court after the verdict, and wearing Banksy’s commemorative t-shirts, the four gave tearful thanks to their legal team, witnesses, supporters, and the groups Glad Colston’s Gone and Bristol Defendant Solidarity.
Challenged by a journalist on whether toppling the statue was an attempt to edit history Willoughby replied: ‘We didn’t change history, we rectified history. And this is a victory for Bristol, this is a victory for racial equality, and it’s a victory for anyone who wants to be on the right side of history.’
Raj Chada, who had defended Graham, said that the four won on the ‘righteousness of their cause,’ that it was criminal to leave the ‘offensive’ statue up for so long, and that prosecution of Graham and the others was ‘not in the public interest in any shape or form.’
Rhian Graham, 30, Milo Ponsford, 26, Jake Skuse, 37, and Sage Willoughby, 22, were charged with criminal damage for their role in toppling of the statue at the Black Lives Matter protest on June 7, 2020. All denied the charges.
Throughout the trial, which began on December 14, the four gave passionate and informed arguments that removing the statue of the slave trader was the right thing to do.
Today (Wednesday, January 5) the court heard final closing statements before the jury retired at midday.
After deliberating for 2 hours and 45 minutes, the jury told the judge that they could not reach a unanimous decision. The judge, Bristol Recorder Peter Blair QC, responded that they could proceed with a majority decision.
The jury returned shortly afterwards to announce that they had a majority. By a vote of 11 to 1 they found the defendants not guilty. A source close to the defendants said that even their lawyers hadn’t expected a verdict to be returned so quickly.
There were jubilant scenes in the public gallery reported as the verdict was read out. A small crowd of supporters outside the courthouse also celebrated. Social media predictably exploded, with both support for and condemnation of the result.
At 4.11pm, Willoughby emerged from the courthouse and briefly took the knee in front of the waiting cameras.
After a further 20 minutes, the four emerged together to huge cheers from supporters. There was relief as well as elation on each of their faces.
Speaking at a press conference later, Graham said that she was ‘overwhelmed’ and ‘a little bit speechless’ after the verdict.
Although she had been feeling good about the possibility of a positive outcome, she said that it could always have gone either way.
However, the impact of the trial and verdict had already been made. Graham said: ‘Going into that situation, going into the courtroom, we’re already winning.
‘All the good stuff that’s already come out of this, it’s already happened, it’s already inspired so much change in the local area and beyond so it really didn’t matter what happened to us in the court.’
Graham claims to have had no background as an activist before toppling the Colston statue.
Asked what advice she would give to others inspired by today’s verdict to take action against racism themselves, Graham said: ‘You can engage at whatever level that you’re capable at. You can take agency over your space and what you feel like you can improve upon.’
She went on to say: ‘There’s all sorts of things that you can do and I don’t think any effort is too small. It’s about using your voice and using your voice to elevate the voices of the unheard.’