The Colston Four trial resumed today after a three day weekend. No doubt allowing The Recorder of Bristol Judge ‘Ded’ and Crown Prosecutor Sir William Scrotesack QC some rest and recuperation before continuing, this week, to waste our time and money prosecuting decent people for doing what their beloved establishment, which rewards them so well, was too racist, reactionary, weak and ineffectual to do themselves.
The day started with defence brief, Blinne Ni Ghralaigh, calling her client, defendant Rhianne Graham, to give evidence. After providing some background about how she ended up in Bristol, Rhianne told the jury she had found it strange there was a statue of a slave trader in the middle of the city.
She explained to the jury she was inspired by suffragette Rosa May Billinghurst, who committed criminal damage in the name of a cause. Before saying she saw nothing admirable in a murderer glorified in Bristol as a philanthropist.
The jury was also told how a newly-worded ‘corrective’ plaque was created for the statue but never put up after the Merchant Venturers interfered in the process and ‘dumbed it down’. They objected to the fact that the plaque mentioned children dying on Colston’s ships and correctly stated that Colston was a Tory.
“Democracy had well and truly broken down around that statue,” Rhianne told the jury and that, for over 100 years, people had asked for the statue to be removed only to be ignored. “Somebody should have been listening,” she said.
Rhianne finished her evidence to the defence by agreeing she took a length of rope to the Black Lives Matter Protest to provide it to the people of Bristol should they wish to pull the statue down, which, it appears, they did.
Under cross-examination from Scrotesack QC, Rhianne repeated she took 30 metres of climbing rope with her to the BLM protest to provide it to people should they want to remove the statue and agreed she did not have permission to bring the statue down.
She also told Scrotesack QC that she didn’t see the toppling as violent, any more than bringing down the Berlin Wall was violent and that “the only people defending that statue was a small group of the wealthy elite who had an interest in defending Colston.”
Following Rhianne, former Lord Mayor of Bristol, Cleo Lake, gave evidence and told the jury she felt “a great sense of relief” and “overjoyed” when the statue was toppled. She also told the court prosecuting the defendants was “embarrassing”.
Finally, Massive Attack entered the fray today with a thread on Twitter about establishment denial and inertia in Bristol over Colston and the disturbing role of the Merchant Venturers in the city:
Crown Prosecutor, Sir William Scrotesack QC’s tepid case drew to an unremarkable close yesterday with another appearance from a copper.
This time we got to hear from Detective Constable Matthew Cron of Bristol CID, who led the police’s criminal damage investigation. His evidence was largely gathered from mobile phone text messages and was largely irrelevant.
Cron had seized Milo Posnford’s phone and had accessed his text messages, which showed he had contacted fellow defendant ‘W’ (Sage Willoughby) and they had discussed bringing down the statue, which tells us nothing that the pair haven’t already admitted elsewhere.
Cron’s evidence does, however, serve as a useful reminder to activists to NEVER arrange or discuss any action by text message. If Milo and Sage had done the old-fashioned thing and phoned each other, the only evidence Cron would have is the location of the two phones and the fact calls had been exchanged between the two. All just circumstantial evidence. The content of their conversation would never have been known as intercepting telecommunications requires a warrant. Accessing text messages does not.
Cron went on to say that Milo later attended a police station and agreed he had put a rope around the statue’s neck. He also told coppers having a monument to a slaver in our city centre was “disgraceful” and that Bristol City Council, who claim ownership of the statue, is run by “very racist people”.
Cron interviewed defendant Rhian Graham on July 6 last year and she confirmed that she was at the incident and helped pass ropes to others and helped pull the statue down. She told the coppers the statue was “abhorrent”.
Scrotesack QC rounded off his case with a video of a media appearance from Supt Andy “Media Tart” Bennett. Who, presumably, as the highly paid senior copper in charge on the day the statue came down was too much of a pussy to be accountable in a court of law?
Media Tart’s TV appearance showed him trying to explain why the coppers sat back, watched and did nothing on the day, despite later claiming a crime had been committed. A pretty weird approach to crime stopping and one Media Tart may have wanted to avoid publicly explaining to a jury?
The defence opened their case with Milo Ponsford’s lawyer Tom Wainwright calling his client to give evidence. Milo openly described his involvement in the necessary removal of the offensive statue, which the council had refused to do anything about and told the jury “I believe I had a lawful excuse to damage that statue, preventing further harm to the people of Bristol.”
The final business of the day saw Liam Walker, of Human rights firm Doughty Street, open the defence for Sage Willoughby, He told the jury Colston organised the genocide of 19,000 human beings and that his “wealth was built on repeated atrocity”. He also said Willoughby didn’t dispute taking the “monument to racism” down.
Tomorrow Walker will be calling celebrity historian David Olusoga. This will be the first sighting of a black person in the court after three days of listening to a variety of sad old white careerists giving prosecution evidence in exchange for continuing generous salaries and a quiet life tolerating racism.
A late start to proceedings this morning as Crown Prosecutor, Sir William Scrotesack QC, had to motor back down into the provinces this morning from London after dining yesterday evening at his chambers after learning no establishment served swan in Bristol.
When things finally kicked off at 11.00am, Jon “Poodle” Finch was the first witness up from Scrotesack QC. Poodle is the council’s Director of Culture and Creative Industries and the useful idiot selected by the Reverend Rees to sign the council’s police complaint about criminal damage to the Colston Statue.
This is the complaint that the council and the Reverend deny ever making and they have, instead, described it as “a statement of facts”. But if there was no complaint what on earth was everyone doing at Bristol Crown Court today? Is it just some sort of establishment right wing reactionary racist cosplay thing? A shoot of some early scenes for a Little Britain remake? Daft Wig Expo 2021?
Whatever it is, it’s all bad news for poodle who, as a local authority culture manager, has been carefully constructing a public facade over many years of being a polite and concerned anti-racist liberal. Only to be stripped bare today, courtesy of the Reverend, to reveal he’s just another pathetic old racist white man selling his arse for a few crumbs off the table of the fabulously wealthy British establishment.
Poodle’s main contribution came when Scrotesack’s pavement fetish reappeared. A fetish, we understand, that may have been formed during a particularly tumultuous year in the fourth form dorms at Merchant Taylor’s School. Poodle dutifully confirmed to a gently probing Scrotescack that there had been £2,400 damage to a pavement when the statue came down.
We also learned from Poodle that yesterday’s claim by Scrotescack of £3,750 worth of damage to the Colston statue was bollocks. Instead £3,750 was the cost of of the plinth the council had built for the statue to display it in the M Shed. Indeed, it increasingly appears, that any damage to the statue came at zero cost and that this major prosecution with an international reach is over who’s responsible for the cost of some municipal pavement maintenance.
Poodle’s appearance also gave us first sight of Milo Ponsford’s brief, Tom Wainwright, best known for defending the ‘Stansted 15‘, and Rhianne Graham’s brief Blinne Ni Ghralaigh from well-known human rights firm, Matrix Chambers. We can only be eternally grateful to The Recorder of Bristol His Honour Judge Ded for moving so swiftly into the 19th century and actually allowing a woman in his court.
Also appearing as a witness today was Simon Hickman, principle inspector of historic buildings for Historic England. He also miserably failed to cost any damage to the Colston statue.
Meanwhile, the coppers put in a written statement from WPC Julie Hayward, a protest liason officer and just about the lowest level of responsibility the cops could possibly find without getting the cleaner to write a statement. As predicted, the coppers admitted they stood around and watched while what Scrotesack QC tried to sell to the jury yesterday as a ‘serious crime’ took place.
The court adjourned at 3.30pm as Crown Prosecutor Sir William Scrotesack QC and The Recorder of Bristol His Honour Judge Ded had been summoned to Venturers Hall in Clifton to attend a session of private prayer in the presence of the Colston toenails.
(Surely the court adjourned at 3.30pm for “legal discussions”. Roughly translated as Judge Ded trying to stop the defence asking witnesses any questions. Ed.)
An exciting first day at Bristol Crown Court as we got to meet some of the cast of ridiculous British establishment characters involved in this ludicrous criminal damageprosecution of the Colston Four for ‘the crime’ of pulling down the Colston Statue in June 2020.
First up, let’s give a very warm welcome to the judge. He styles himself The Recorder of Bristol His Honour Judge “Ded” Peter Blair QC and he is, naturally, an old white man and a graduate of Oxford University. Who would have ever guessed?
It’s also worth noting that Judge Ded was appointed Recorder of Bristol by, er, Bristol City Council, the complainant in the case, “to recognise the traditional association between the City Council and the administration of justice in the city.” (Stop laughing at the back please).
Obviously there’s absolutely no conflict of interest here because Judge Ded’s a very important man indeed who went to Oxford University, which makes him totally disinterested and objective. He even booted a couple of council employees off the jury he’s so focussed on a fair trial.
Opening the case for the prosecution was Sir William Scrotesack QC (surely William Hughes QC? ed). He usually prosecutes Homicide, Serious Fraud, Money Laundering, Organised Crime, drug trafficking, serious and historical sexual offences. So quite what the fuck he’s doing prosecuting some Mickey Mouse criminal damage case in Bristol is anyone’s guess.
Sir William is an old white man too. He went to school at Merchant Taylor’s School, Northwood (motto: Concordia parvae res crescunt) so he’s earning an extremely fat fee for highlighting to a bored jury the criminally damaged pavements of Bristol during an opening statement combining considerable tedium with low farce.
Scrotesack will be back tomorrow to introduce his witnesses, which will include Bristol City Council who can apprise us of their “traditional association with the administration of justice in the city.” in person!
This Statement has been released by GladColstonsGone (FB page + on Instagram @gladcolstonsgone). They are “a coalition united by our belief that the toppling of the Colston Statue has benefitted the City of Bristol. We want to continue conversations it has galvanised around race, racism and justice, historical and present, in Bristol.“ They’ve also made it clear they believe the charges against the Colston4 Defendants should be dropped. We at AltBristol agree with that! Beneath the Statement is their Press Release today.
Statement of Support for the Toppling of the Colston Statue & for the Four Colston Defendants The statue of Edward Colston was toppled in Bristol during a Black Lives Matter protest on June 7th 2020. This protest was one of many globally and nationally, in direct response to the brutal murder of a black man, George Floyd, by Minneapolis police. The Bristol protest was attended by thousands of people. Hundreds can clearly be seen on camera to have been involved in various activities that led to this object being pushed into the harbour. Despite this, authorities have decided to single out four people who are now charged with criminal damage. They await trial in December 2021.
We, the undersigned, support the anti-racist aims of the protests throughout the summer 2020. We abhor the legacies of institutional and structural racism arising from European colonisation and the trafficking, enslavement and transportation of African men, women and children into plantation slavery in the Caribbean and Americas.
We believe that raising the statue of the slave-trader Colston in 1895, some 60 years after the Emancipation Act, and repeatedly ignoring expressions of concerns by citizens, campaigners, and artists, has been deeply damaging to Bristol’s Black community and to our common humanity.
We believe the statue has stood as a monument to the disingenuous way power is wielded, impacting those of African descent adversely and disproportionately in policing, health, housing, education outcomes, job opportunities and life chances.
In contrast, we note the absence in our city centre of any memorials, monuments or plaques that restore to African peoples’ ancestors their dignity and humanity, or that honours the many nameless Africans and indigenous people exploited and murdered by Bristol merchants and ruling elites.
We recognise that this statue has been a point of division for many years and welcome the fact that it no longer stands in our city centre. We do not believe the trial against four people is in the best interests of our city and urge that charges be dropped.
We call for some permanent recognition in our civic spaces of the historical reality of this period, and the creation of a permanent memorial and centre of memory, resistance and renewal to begin a process of understanding, healing, reflection and education.
GladColstonsGone – 7 June 2021
Note: We invite individuals, groups, institutions and campaigns to sign-up in support of this Statement. To support this statement: – add your or your organisation’s name in a comment to the pinned post of the GladColstonsGone FB page. – message us via FB or @gladcolstonsgone on Instagram – email us at email@example.com and we’ll add you. Download the Statement as a pdf here: Statement-GladColstonsGone
Now for the Press Release that came with the Statement:
Colston Statement – Press Release 7th June 2021
On the first anniversary of the toppling of the Colston statue, we are Glad Colston’s Gone from his pedestal.
We recognise that this statue has been a point of division for many years and welcome the fact that it no longer stands in our city centre.
We believe that raising the statue of the slave-trader Colston in 1895, some 60 years after the Emancipation Act, and repeatedly ignoring expressions of concerns by citizens, campaigners, and artists, has been deeply damaging to Bristol’s Black community and to our common humanity.
The Countering Colston Campaign says: “If local government and city institutions had cared about systematic racial inequalities in the past, Bristol wouldn’t be where and what it is today. Drop the Colston statue damage charges, let’s attend to the real damages of inequalities and racial injustices in our midst.”
We do not believe the trial against four people is in the best interests of our city and urge that charges be dropped.
Sam Elliot from Bristol Defendant Solidarity – legal support says: “The charges are divisive and vindictive. We cannot have a ‘conversation’ or ‘consultation’ whilst some of the architects of that consultation have been involved with the criminal justice system in persecuting protesters involved in the toppling of Colston.”
We support the anti-racist aims of the protests throughout the summer 2020. We abhor the legacies of institutional and structural racism arising from European colonisation and the trafficking, enslavement and transportation of African men, women and children into plantation slavery in the Caribbean and Americas.
We invite individuals, groups, institutions & campaigns to sign up in support of our Statement – see attached/or below.
Notes for editors, readers & others: 1. The statue of Edward Colston was erected in 1895 by a tiny clique of wealthy Bristol businessmen. It was toppled during a Black Lives Matter protest in Bristol on 7 June 2020 attended by over 10,000 people. Many were involved in pulling the statue down. But just six people were issued Conditional Cautions by A&S Police in the summer of 2020, whilst just four people were charged with criminal damage by the CPS in December 2020. 2. Bristol Council provided a statement to A&S Police in late June 2020 that facilitated the start of the Police’s investigation. 3. For GladColstonsGone please see – https://www.facebook.com/gladcolstonsgone/ 4. For Countering Colston Campaign please see – https://counteringcolston.wordpress.com/ 5. For Bristol Defendant Solidarity please see – https://twitter.com/bristoldefenda1 6. For a range of historical research & articles related to Edward Colston please see – https://www.brh.org.uk/site/project/edward-colston/ 7. #GladColstonsGone! Bristol Topplers’ Defence Fund! Please see – https://gofund.me/e49428cb
Solidarity with the Colston Statue Defendants! (Feature image by AltBristol)
The violence which surrounded the ‘Kill the Bill’ protest on Sunday 21 March catapulted Bristol into national headlines. The predictable outrage and condemnation by politicians and business leaders was magnified by gruesome statements (now unmasked as lies) coming from Avon & Somerset Police of officers with ‘punctured lungs’ and ‘compound fractures’. Meanwhile, the reason for the demonstration, a Tory Bill to repress protests, and the numbers of protestors injured by police in full public order kit, armed with shields, clubs and pepper spray was usefully obscured
After the initial ‘outrage’ news items, journalists began focusing on feature articles which attempted to contextualise the ‘Bridewell riot’. One well-read article ‘A city of protest: Bristol’s history of resistance’ on the BBC website began with the questionable premise that the city was somehow historically exceptional. It claimed that “The city’s counter-culture identity reaches back through the centuries”. This somewhat ludicrous claim was followed by some of the worst historical analysis we have seen for a while. Claiming dubious validity by referencing Mayor Marvin Rees’s controversial History Commission, the article continued by quoting a University of Bristol academic who was “investigating the city’s heritage of protest”. They stated:
There is a long history of protest in Bristol and a radical self-identify is more prevalent here, but why Bristol and not other cities is a difficult point. Bristol has always been a city of protest with an alternative identity that pushes back on those mainstream or established narratives. Protest is very richly woven into the city’s history and I think the people of Bristol today are influenced by that narrative of protest.
Apart from not making much sense (radical self-identify?), failing to explain what period they were referring to and vaguely talking about ‘narratives’ they also claimed that Bristol had “always been a city of protest with an alternative identity”. This begged some questions. What is this so-called alternative identity that Bristol has had for centuries? And isn’t protest woven into the fabric of many cities? Ok…give them a break you might say…let them get into some detail. They did and it got worse.
Centres of protest like Stokes Croft or St Paul’s are a stone’s throw away from more affluent areas like Clifton, where you also have a high student population where people are very interested in a different way of living.
This statement tells us more about the bubble where this academic hangs out than making much sense. Bristol’s centuries long ‘alternative identity’ is reduced temporally and spatially to the last 15 years and to Stokes Croft (which most Bristolians regard as a street rather than an area) with the added bonus of ‘edgy’ St Pauls. A different way of living? Bristol University? Yes, maybe a route to top jobs and wealth for public school and middle-class kids, but hardly a hotbed of counterculture.
Rounding off their contribution, the ‘expert on protest’ jumped to the late eighteenth century claiming “the Bristol Bridge riots in 1793 as the first notable clash with the establishment in the city”. Writing off almost all the 1700s in Bristol suggests social peace in the supposed ‘deferent century’. In reality, as most local historians know, Bristol was riddled with confrontations between crowds and the ‘establishment’ in the ‘riotous century’. From ‘moral economy’ food riots led by women who reduced prices by force, to turnpike riots and wage riots led by the Kingswood colliers and East Bristol Weavers, ‘collective bargaining by riot’ was a fairly normal method of direct action in a deeply undemocratic society.
At this point the article began to really lose its way, Exposing more about the current politics of the BBC and some of the contributing historians than teaching us any coherent history. The following timeline was offered as a guideline to the exceptionalism of protests in Bristol:
(BBC) Timeline of protests in Bristol
1793: The Bristol Bridge riots
1831: Queens Square Reform riots
1963: The Bristol bus boycotts
1980: St Paul’s riots
2011: Stokes Croft Tesco protests and riots
2019: Extinction Rebellion protests
February 2020: Greta Thunberg climate change rally
June 2020: Black Lives Matter protests
As anyone knows who has looked at the history of protest in any city, anywhere in the world, deciding what to include and exclude in a timeline is very difficult as there is so much protest, in so many different forms. Even if we concentrated on one form, say riots, the list would fill several pages and that would be unfinished. Looking at the above timeline, there are huge glaring gaps and massive omissions. So nothing happened over the 132 years between the 1831 ‘reform riots’ and the Bristol Bus boycotts of the 1960s? Really? The number of struggles connected to protest wiped out by the timeline in this period alone is truly remarkable: labour history, women’s history, enfranchisement, education, housing, healthcare, socialism, poor laws, anti-fascism, LGBT history, unemployed marches, communists, soldiers strikes, anti-war demonstrations, prisons etc etc.
As for riots, clearly only those that ‘count’ are to be counted. If the one-day event in St Pauls in April 1980 is alright, why not the two nights of rioting in Southmead that followed immediately after? Or the three nights of rioting in Hartcliffe in 1992 in response to the killing of two residents by police? Or perhaps the Sidney Cooke paedophile riot at Broadbury Road police station in 1998 led by local women? And the Poll tax riots of 1990? If the so-called Tesco’s riot of 2011 gets a tick, why not the massive wave of rioting and looting that occurred a few months later in August 2011 across England?
Is the history of protest being sanitised on the basis of social class and to some extent ethnicity? When St Pauls rioted in 1980 it is justified, when Hartcliffe did, it must be condemned, ignored or belittled. After all, what have working class people got to get angry about? This stinks of liberal politicos and academics with a social-democratic narrative trying to control the historical agenda of what is acceptable protest and what isn’t. This becomes clearer later in the article when we are informed:
Protests like the Bristol Bus Boycott were organised with clear aims and strategies which minimises demonstrations turning into something different.
I guess the ‘something different’ was a reference to the Bridewell ‘riot’ on the previous Sunday. A pattern is beginning to emerge, sensible, peaceful, organised, Bus Boycott campaign good….Anti-police bill demonstration bad. This assumes, of course, that peaceful protest works? Does anyone remember the massive CND demonstrations of the 1970s and 80s when millions marched legally, sensibly and peacefully to try and stop the introduction of first-strike nuclear weapons and the potential for mass destruction? Failure. Or the Stop the War marches of 2003 when millions marched legally, sensibly and peacefully to stop the invasion of Iraq? Failure. Compare that with hundreds of thousands breaking the law by refusing to pay the Poll Tax, storming city councils and famously rioting in London in 1990 which finished off the ‘Community Charge’ and led to the fall of the Thatcher cabal of right-wing nutters. Or thousands of miners going on strike, shutting power stations down and physically confronting the police in the 1970s which brought the anti-Union Tory government down. Or the Black Lives Matter protestors solving a century-long festering sore by pulling down the Colston statue after years of failed petitioning and peaceful protests.
If you think the historical debate is irrelevant to the protests around the Police Bill then fair enough. However, Bristol’s elected Mayor disagrees with you. In a Facebook video addressed to the city the day after the first protest at Bridewell Marvin Rees stated:
I absolutely condemn the violence we saw in Bristol last night. It was a display of selfish, self-indulgent, self-centred violence by a group of people who were looking for any opportunity to enter into physical confrontation….We have a history of politically significant protest, like Chartists and Suffragettes protesting for emancipation, trade unions striking and campaigning for jobs and rights at work. This was not that. Last night’s action was politically illiterate and increases the likelihood of the policing bill passing. The riot is not worthy of being mentioned alongside the very legitimate debate about the bill…..We won’t allow these people to hijack our city’s story.
Despite the obvious fact that the violence outside Bridewell meant that the ‘legitimate debate’ about the ‘Policing Bill’, which had been hardly publicised, was suddenly all over the media and forced politicians to start commenting on it, there were some more worrying signs in Rees’s statement. Odd as it seems, Rees appears to have appointed himself judge of what is ‘acceptable’ protest both now and in the past, and guardian of the ‘city’s story’ (whatever that is). Several commentators have noticed this Orwellian turn from the present to the past (and we suppose to mapping out the future) and the contradictions inherent in his statement. My advice is if you are going to set yourself up as the judge of ‘acceptable protest’ then at least read some history.
If the Suffragettes are ‘good’ then is Rees suggesting that mass campaigns of criminal damage, arson and bombing are the way forward for the Anti-Policing Bill protesters? If the Chartists are ‘good’ then would planning for an armed Republican insurrection and forming your own organised and armed force to deal with the Police on demonstrations be useful strategy and tactics for the protestors? If Trade Unions are good then would Rees support mass strikes over Bristol City Council redundancies due to austerity measures?…. Like fuck he would. It looks to me like Rees has either swallowed a sanitised, social-democratic historical narrative or that he really doesn’t know what he is talking about.
There may be an explanation to Rees’ turn to the historical and that is his flagship committee. The ‘We are Bristol (University)’ History Commission set up in the wake of the pulling down of the statue of Edward Colston during a Black Lives Matter demonstration in June last year. Perhaps this has spurred him to learn about some ‘radical history’. The irony, of course, is that it was a ‘bad protest’ that forced the Mayor to take the issue of the city’s contested history seriously after years of ignoring it. Will the ‘We are Bristol (University)’ History Commission try to become the arbiter of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ protest history whilst itself being the product of what it would call a ‘bad’ protest?
For many of us who spent years challenging the sanitisation of the history of Edward Colston by City elites the move by Rees and his ‘academics in tow’ to now sanitise and ring-fence the history of protest in Bristol when faced by a real and vital protest movement is both ironic and dumb, but also boringly predictable.
Green party Mayoral candidate re-writing history! See his tweet – some hilarious comments
The Bristol 24/7 article demonstrates how desperate the bosses, state & middle class are to de-escalate the situation so we’re all peaceful –
– quote “Teams of officers with riot gear were poised well out of the way…”. Yeah like 75m away hiding in the NCP carpark next to Bridewell (with spotters on the roof), also 6 vanloads nearby in Deep St.
Edward Colston! Denis Burn! John Savage! Colin Skellett! Francis Greenacre! The Bishop of Bristol! That Twat of a Vicar from St Mary Redcliffe! The One They Call the Master! Caroline Duckworth – can you hear me Caroline! Your boys took one hell of a beating! Your boys took one hell of a beating!’