UK court rule says human rights defenders cannot use ‘violent’ statue toppling

Defendants were not protected by the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) because the collapse of the Edward Colston statue during the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests was ‘violent’, the UK Court of Appeals said Wednesday. made a judgment on

The ruling does not overturn the acquittal of the criminal damages charges against the four defendants.

On January 5, Milo Ponsford, Jake Sukse, Sage Willoughby and Ryan Graham were summoned by a jury despite admitting to being involved in the demolition of a statue estimated to have cost £3,750 ($4,050). He was acquitted of the charge of causing criminal damage by a member. ) considerable damage.

Epoch Times photo
(L–R) Sage Willoughby, Jake Sukse, Milo Ponsford and Ryan Graham outside Bristol Crown Court after being acquitted of criminal damages on 5 January 2022. (Ben Birchall/PA Media)

At the trial, it was heard that Ponsford and Graham had brought a rope which Willoughby put around the statue’s neck, and Skuse incited the crowd to roll the statue 500 meters (1,640 ft) and throw it into the water.

However, the defendants argued that the existence of the statue of the slave trader was a hate crime or obscene display, and that the statue’s demolition was to prevent a crime.

“The defendant should not have been charged,” said defense attorney Raj Chada.

Following the verdict, then-Attorney General Suera Braverman referred the case to the Court of Appeals to determine whether human rights-related defenses could be used when accused of criminal damages, and to ask a jury to do so. asked the court to clarify whether Determines whether a criminal damages conviction constitutes a “reasonable interference” with the defendant’s human rights, particularly the right to protest and freedom of expression.

ECHR “out of protection”

At Wednesday’s ruling, Chief Justice Barnett sat down with Justices Holgate and Saini and said the Crown Prosecutor’s Office (CPS) was correct in arguing that the indictment of the four was not an abuse of procedure. The protestor’s behavior was that he was “unprotected” by the ECHR.

“Although this incident did not involve the destruction of any statues, the damage caused was clearly significant,” Barnett said.

“To pull this heavy bronze statue to the ground, I had to climb it, attach a rope to it, and use considerable force to crash it into the ground.”

The judge said the circumstances in which the statue was damaged “did not involve a peaceful protest”.

“The overthrow of the decree was violent. Moreover, the damage to the statue was severe,” he said.

“On both of these grounds, we conclude that the prosecution’s allegation at the abuse hearing was correct that the conduct in question fell outside the protections of the Convention.”

He emphasized that he did not imply that the four were actually guilty of criminal damages because there were other defenses put forward by them at their trial and on what grounds the jurors would consider. This is because it is “impossible” to know whether a verdict has been reached on that basis.

Chada, who represented the four, said he was “disappointed by the appeals court’s decision.”

He said the demolition was “not violent” and that “the value of the statue has increased exponentially since it fell”.

The campaign group Save Our Statues tweeted ahead of the ruling, saying, “No one has the right to violently damage property for being ‘offended’. It is imperative that this principle be made clear in law.” There is,” he wrote.

Epoch Times photo
A statue of the toppled Edward Colston is on display at the M Shedd Museum in Bristol, England, June 7, 2021. (Polly Thomas/Getty Images)

An important port in the west of England in the 17th and 18th centuries, Bristol became one of the slave trade centers of the British Empire. But while many of those involved have been forgotten, Colston’s name has lived on because he became a philanthropist.

according to page The Bristol City Council’s museum website, which has since been taken down, said: “Edward Colston never traded enslaved Africans on his account, as far as we know.”

The page said Colston and his father owned shares in the Royal African Company (RAC), whose members traded in gold, ivory, and slave Africans. He also served as a member of the RAC’s governing body for 11 years.

Another museum page says that in his later years as MP for Bristol, Colston “camped to legalize the slave trade and maintain favorable terms for merchants.”

PA Media contributed to this report.

Lily Zhou


Lily Zhou is an Ireland-based reporter focusing on UK news. Lily said she attended the Chinese edition of The Epoch Times for the first time before she focused on the UK in 2020.