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The Colston Four: should they have been acquitted?

By Andrew Allison, Chief Executive

Edward Colston made a lot of money out of the slave trade, although it is not known just how much it was. But he also made a fortune trading in other commodities. He was a prominent philanthropist, so gave much of his wealth away helping to found almshouses, and he funded schools and churches. He died, aged 84, in 1721 - over 300 years ago. By the standards of today, his involvement (and the involvement of others) in the slave trade was reprehensible. By the standards of the age he (and they) lived in, his life was nothing out of the ordinary for someone of his wealth and class. 

I can understand why some people found the statue of Edward Colston in Bristol (which wasn't erected until 1895 - 174 years after his death) offensive. I am not one for taking down statues and trying to rewrite history; however, if there is a groundswell of opinion in any town or city to remove statues and memorials, then there should be a referendum. Let local people decide. This can be the only democratic way of dealing with these perceived problems. 

One of our ten principles of a free society is the rule of law. Without it, a free society cannot function. It's why the not guilty verdicts in the trail of the four people charged with criminal damage after they pulled down Colston's statue and dumped it into the Avon, are deeply concerning. I was not in the public gallery during the trial, therefore I cannot make a running commentary about it. Nor am I going to criticise trial by jury. The jury system is a vitally important bedrock of our criminal justice system. If you sense a but coming, here it is. 

By removing the statue in the way they did, they broke the law. Lawyers can argue about extenuating circumstances until the cows come home, but as the statue's removal was broadcast live on television, there is no doubt that they were responsible. In my opinion, the not guilty verdicts were arrived at for political reasons, which is wrong. If I forcibly removed the bust of Karl Marx from his tomb in Highgate Cemetery, I would be arrested, charged, and prosecuted for criminal damage. I doubt that I would be found not guilty of that charge, despite my protestations that Marx's philosophies have resulted in the deaths of millions of people and have impoverished even more. Those arguments are for another day - not my day or days in court. (For the record, I am not about to remove the bust, nor do I think anyone else should, either!) 

My biggest fear is that this verdict gives carte blanche to other political protesters who wish to do something similar, which is why I am pleased that the Attomey General, Suella Braverman, is "carefully considering" referring the case of the Court of Appeal.  

 

Photo Credit: Caitlin Hobbs -  https://twitter.com/Chobbs7/status/1269682491465576448/photo/1