Bristol Greens have celebrated the outcome of the Colston 4 trial as all four defendants were found not guilty of criminal damage.
During the trial it emerged that Bristol’s wealthy Society of Merchant Venturers, who helped to fund the statue’s erection in 1895, had intervened to water down text proposed for a plaque by the statue to highlight Colston’s involvement in the slave trade.
Green Councillor Christine Townsend is a founding member of ‘Countering Colston’ campaign group. Responding to the trial’s outcome, she called on Bristol to seize the moment to challenge the power of the Merchant Venturers, who have members sitting on the Council committee that manages the Downs and control a number of schools in the city.
“This is a great moment of hope for Bristol. For decades the democratic process to remove the statue failed. Not because of any doubt that it was harming our communities, but because of the influence of its defenders, the Society of Merchant Venturers. In the face of this acquittal we urgently need to address the capacity of this unelected elite to continue to wield significant power over our city.
“It came out in court – there was clear evidence – that individuals in the organisation tried to interfere with the democratic processes. And as an elected member of the council, that is something that I will be taking up and we will be pushing for as myself as an individual and the Green Party.
“It’s time we started honouring the thousands of our African ancestors that have been written out of history, and start building a society that doesn’t disadvantage their descendants.”
Former Green Councillor Cleo Lake, who as Lord Mayor made headlines when she had a portrait of Colston removed from her office, joined in celebrating the result. She said:
“The ‘Colston 4’ did what needed to be done and their actions have significantly contributed to propelling an inter-generational and international cause, presenting a substantial and symbolic marker towards the historic battle for justice concerning crimes committed against humanity through the Transatlantic Traffic of Enslaved Afrikans commonly referred to as the ‘slave trade’.
“As stated in the trial summing up: ‘Colston’s statue normalised abuse. It condoned the shrugging acceptance of racism. It celebrated the achievements of a racist mass murderer. The continued existence of that statue was a racist hate crime.’”
“As we move forward as a city it will be important to have a dedicated museum or innovative space to accurately tell the full history but also to represent it in a way that might empower Afrikan Heritage communities, for example including information that predates the enslavement and colonisation that interrupted Afrika’s development.”
“There is also much ongoing discussion about memorial/s to the Afrikan ancestors whose lives were so cruelly taken – some of this is referenced in the Project TRUTH report that will be launched on January 18th.”
Image – Defendant Rhian Graham (left), joins (left to right) former Green Lord Mayor Cleo Lake, defence barrister Raj Chada, Green Councillor Christine Townsend, and activist Jen Reid at press conference following the trial outcome. Still from Bristol 24/7 recording of press conference available on Youtube.
For further information on the outcome of the trial and context for the legal case for the defence, see: