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Removing Colston statue was 'cathartic not violent' says one of Colston 4

Bristol Live logo Bristol Live 29/09/2022 Tristan Cork

One of the four people cleared of criminal damage of the statue of Edward Colston has said she is 'not disheartened' after a Court of Appeal ruled that one of the defences she and her co-accused used in court should not have been put.

Rhian Graham, one of the Colston 4, said the ruling by the Court of Appeal could not dent the 'positive impact' the toppling of the statue two years ago had, or that the jury acquitted the four of any crime earlier this year.

The Court of Appeal ruling does not affect the verdict in the Colston 4 case retrospectively, but human rights groups and legal experts have said they are concerned that it chips away at the rights to protest held by everyone in Britain.

Read more: Appeal Court rules Colston 4 should not have used human rights defence

But the Court of Appeal ruling does mean that a future protester or campaigner accused of criminal damage might not be allowed to use the defence that it was their human rights to protest in that way - and lawyers representing Rhian Graham said they were disappointed and concerned about the restriction of rights.

The Appeal Court judges were asked by the then-Attorney General - now Home Secretary - Suella Braverman to clarify the technical point of law in the aftermath of the acquittal of the Colston 4 in January, as the Government came under pressure from some commentators to review the case.

Given the lengthy case was tried before a jury, who acquitted the Colston 4, the case could not be appealed or overturned. So Ms Braverman could only seek a clarification on whether one of the lines of defence used by the statue topplers - that convicting and potentially jailing them for criminal damage was disproportionate, given it was their human rights to protest. The defence case in the Colston 4 trial did not just rely on that, however, and also successfully argued that the continued presence of the statue of slave trader Edward Colston in the centre of Bristol was a greater crime than pulling it down, and/or the four genuinely believed that the owner of the statue - Bristol City Council - would give them consent to remove it.

The Court of Appeal ruled that, in cases where the criminal damage was 'violent' and caused a lot of damage, defendants should not be able to call on their human right to protest as a defence. Speaking after today's Appeal Court ruling, Rhian Graham said the 'positive impact' of removing the statue can 'never be undone'.

"Having been on the ground the day Edward Colston’s statue was toppled, I am still confident in saying it was not a violent act. It was the cathartic removal of a memorial to an oppressor of people and an abuser of power, who had too long loomed over the people of Bristol. The fact that it is gone is still right for Bristol," she said.

"The wider implications of the Court of Appeal’s judgement today remain to be seen but I am not disheartened. The positive impact of the toppling for both Bristol, and the anti-racism movement as a whole, can never be undone and this judgement cannot overturn the decision made by a jury of our peers.

Read more: The curious tale of Banksy, the Mayor of Bristol, the Colston 4 and a signed t-shirt

The statue of Edward Colston has been pulled from its plinth © Alon Aviram, Bristol Cable The statue of Edward Colston has been pulled from its plinth

"In court we relied upon more defences than just our Human Rights, such as ‘prevention of crime’ and ‘belief in consent’ and it may be that the jury did not consider the defence in question when deciding our fate. Their basis for acquittal we will never know," she added.

"What I would like to know is why our Government continues to spend time and taxpayer’s money on defending a memorial of a slave trader via this appeal case and the introduction of a maximum sentence of ten years for damaging a statue (via the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill) when there are so many more pressing issues at hand. My thoughts lie with the most vulnerable who will struggle to eat and stay warm this winter under the watch of our Tory Government," she added.

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