Colston statue 'will go back on public display', says Bristol mayor

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  • Edward Colston
    British slave trader, merchant, philanthropist and politician
File photo dated 7/6/2020 of protesters throwing a statue of Edward Colston into Bristol harbour during a Black Lives Matter protest rally. Four people have been cleared at Bristol Crown Court of criminal damage for pulling down the statue. Issue date: Wednesday January 5, 2022.
Protesters throwing the statue of Edward Colston into Bristol harbour during a Black Lives Matter protest rally. (PA)

The statue of slave trader Edward Colston, which was pulled down and thrown into a river by protesters, will be made publicly accessible in Bristol, the city's mayor has said.

Four people were cleared of criminal damage for toppling the statue by a jury at Bristol Crown Court on Wednesday.

Mayor Marvin Rees told Times Radio the statue is in storage, but the long-term plan is for it to be displayed in public “with context”.

“Part of the problem with the statue is that it simply didn’t tell history, it didn’t teach us about history, it celebrated Colston,” he said.

“And actually, it did its job that it was designed to do by the people who put it up in the first instance – to create a kind of a founding father, mythical figure for Bristol, and it was doing that with no context.

“We want people to have a fuller understanding of who Colston was, and the fullness of his character in that context would be a better position to be able to decide whether he’s worthy of being celebrated, which I don’t think he is.”

Rees was speaking on the same day that Rhian Graham, 30, Milo Ponsford, 26, Sage Willoughby, 22, and Jake Skuse, 33, were cleared of criminal damage.

Milo Ponsford, left, Sage Willoughby, second left, Jake Skuse , second right in mask, and Rhian Graham right, accused of criminal damage over the toppling of the statue of slave trader Edward Colston, outside Bristol Crown Court. Picture date: Tuesday December 14, 2021.
Milo Ponsford, left, Sage Willoughby, second left, Jake Skuse, second right in mask, and Rhian Graham right, accused of criminal damage over the toppling of the statue of slave trader Edward Colston, outside Bristol Crown Court. (PA)

The four all admitted their roles in toppling the statue during a Black Lives Matter protest in the city in June 2020, but claimed its presence was a hate crime, and that it was therefore not an offence to remove it.

Rees said Colston should not be “celebrated or venerated” but he should also not be erased from Bristol’s history.

Bristol City Mayor Marvin Rees said the statue would be put back on display. (PA)
Bristol City mayor Marvin Rees said the statue would be put back on display. (PA)

He said: “I welcome the fact the schools have chosen to change their name but I think it’s really important that they never forget that they were called Colston.

“This is not about the erasure of history, it is about a proper understanding of history and then coming up with a clear understanding of how we choose to relate to that history and remember it in our modern time.”

The decision of the jury to acquit the defendants has been met with anger by some Tory MPs.

Watch: PM says historical legacy should be preserved after Colston verdict

Read more: 'Compulsive liar': Backlash grows after footage shows Boris Johnson made misleading comment on inflation

Tory MP and former justice secretary Robert Buckland said he thought the jury’s decision was perverse, telling BBC Radio 4’s World at One programme: “I think anybody watching those scenes cannot fail to be disturbed at the very least and appalled by what happened.

“I don’t think we want to see our crown courts becoming political playgrounds – they’re not places for politics, they’re places for the law to be applied and for the evidence to be assessed.

“Sometimes we will get jury verdicts that perhaps fly in the face of the law and sometimes the evidence, that is the price we pay for the admirable system, the system of jury trials that I and many others strongly believe in.”

Asked about the verdict, Boris Johnson told broadcasters at a vaccination centre in Moulton Park, Northampton: “I don’t want to comment on that particular judgment – it’s a matter for the court.

EMBARGOED TO 1930 THURSDAY JUNE 3 The statue of Bristol slave trader Edward Colston, which was retrieved from the water after being toppled during a Black Lives Matter protest on 7th June 2020 and thrown into Bristol Harbour, is now being displayed at M Shed, Bristol, during the preview of 'The Colston statue: What next?'. Picture date: Thursday June 3, 2021.
The statue was put on display in a museum after it was toppled. (PA)

“But what I would say is that my feeling is that we have a complex historical legacy all around us, and it reflects our history in all its diversity, for good or ill.

“What you can’t do is go around seeking retrospectively to change our history or to bowdlerise it or edit it in retrospect.

“It’s like some person trying to edit their Wikipedia entry – it’s wrong.

"And I think if people democratically want to remove a statue or whatever, that’s fine. But I think that, in general, we should preserve our cultural, artistic, historical legacy – that’s my view.”

Watch: Four cleared of criminal damage over toppling statue of Edward Colston

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