Ian Payne 4am - 7am
Four charged with toppling Edward Colston statue deny criminal damage
25 January 2021, 16:58
Four people have denied committing criminal damage during a Black Lives Matter protest in Bristol that ended in the toppling of a statue of slave trader Edward Colston.
Rhian Graham, 29, Milo Ponsford, 25, Jake Skuse, 36, and Sage Willoughby, 21, appeared before Bristol Magistrates' Court for their first hearing on Monday morning charged with carrying out the offence.
The bronze memorial to the 17th-century slave merchant was pulled down during a Black Lives Matter protest on June 7 last year, before being dumped in Bristol Harbour.
It was later recovered from the water by Bristol City Council.
Charges allege the four defendants "with each other and others unknown without lawful excuse" damaged property, namely the Edward Colston statue and plinth of a value unknown, which belongs to the council.
The defendants each pleaded not guilty and elected for the case to be escalated to Bristol Crown Court.
District Judge Lynne Matthews told them: "At your request, I now send the case to the crown court at Bristol.
"Your first hearing will be February 8.
"You will be given unconditional bail until that date."
Three of the defendants - Graham, Skuse and Willoughby - are all based in Bristol while is in Bishopstoke, Hampshire.
Avon and Somerset Police warned ahead of the hearing that anyone planning to attend the court to protest against the case would be breaking the law.
There was a large police presence outside the court and a small number of arrests were made.
An online protest also took place.
Police did not make any arrests when the statue was toppled but later launched an investigation and, in December, the Crown Prosecution Service said it had authorised charges against the four.
Following the court hearing, Hodge Jones & Allen solicitors, which represents three of the four defendants, issued a statement.
Raj Chada, head of criminal defence at the firm, and Laura O'Brien, associate, said: "We will fight these criminal charges vigorously on behalf of our clients
"We are committed to defending them and their right to a fair trial in this important case. We ask that their privacy is respected."