UK Statue Toppling Suspects Plead Not Guilty of Criminal Damage

March 2, 2021 Updated: March 2, 2021

Four people who were charged for allegedly toppling a statue in Bristol during last year’s Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests have pleaded not guilty.

The four people, who appeared at Bristol Crown Court on Tuesday, were accused of damaging the statue of Edward Colston, a 17th-century merchant, which was toppled during a Black Lives Matter protest in Bristol in June 2020, following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody.

The four defendants—Rhian Graham, 29, Milo Ponsford, 25, Jake Skuse, 32, and Sage Willoughby, 21—were charged in December with causing criminal damage.

After hearing their pleas of not guilty, judge Peter Blair set Dec. 13 as the start date for their trial, which is expected to last seven or eight days.

Epoch Times Photo
A worker cleans the defaced statue of Winston Churchill, which was spray painted with the words “was a racist,” in London, on June 8, 2020. (Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

During last summer’s BLM riots, protesters in the UK defaced a statue of Winston Churchill in London’s Parliament Square, taping a “Black Lives Matter” sign to it and spraying it with graffiti.

The protests triggered a series of acts of cultural revision in the UK, including the renaming of Gunga Din House, a senior boys’ boarding house at an independent Oxford school over perceived racist connotations; and the renaming by the University of Edinburgh of a campus building over 18th-century philosopher David Hume’s 260-year-old comments on race.

The British Museum reorganized displays to reflect the “exploitative context of the British Empire,” prior to its reopening in August.

In September 2020, the British government wrote to several museums and cultural institutions warning that their public funding could be called into question should they remove statues or other historical objects that have become the focus of protests or complaints.

Robert Jenrick
Britain’s Housing, Communities, and Local Government Secretary Robert Jenrick arrives at 10 Downing Street in central London, on March 17, 2020, (Tolga Akmen/AFP via Getty Images)

On Jan. 17, Britain’s Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick announced new laws to protect England’s cultural and historic heritage, which said historic statues should not be destroyed but should be “retained and explained” for future generations.

Writing in the Sunday Telegraph, Jenrick said, “Any decisions to remove these heritage assets will require planning permission and councils will need to do so in accordance with their constitution, after consultation with the local community.”

Mary Clark, Tom Ozimek, and Reuters contributed to this report.