Trial date set for four accused of damaging Edward Colston statue

2 March 2021, 14:19 | Updated: 2 March 2021, 14:31

The Edward Colston statue at the feet of protesters
The Edward Colston statue at the feet of protesters. Picture: PA

By Patrick Grafton-Green

A trial date has been set for four people charged with criminal damage in relation to the toppling of a statue of slave trader Edward Colston.

Rhian Graham, 29, Milo Ponsford, 25, Jake Skuse, 36, and Sage Willoughby, 21, all denied the charge against them at Bristol Crown Court on Tuesday.

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.

Charges allege the four defendants, without lawful excuse, jointly and with others, damaged the statue, a listed monument belonging to Bristol City Council.

It is claimed that the defendants committed the offence "intending to destroy or damage such property or being reckless as to whether such property would be destroyed or damaged".

Their trial is due to start on December 13 and they were released on bail.

Milo Ponsford, Rhian Graham and Jake Skuse (left to right) arrive at Bristol Crown Court
Milo Ponsford, Rhian Graham and Jake Skuse (left to right) arrive at Bristol Crown Court. Picture: PA

Judge Peter Blair QC, the Recorder of Bristol, said he would preside over the trial.

He told the defendants: "You have pleaded not guilty and therefore I am fixing a trial date of December 13 for you which you must attend without fail on that day and the subsequent days.

"We estimate that it will go into a second week. I am suggesting probably setting aside seven to eight days so you need to make sure that your diaries are so arranged.

"There will be a hearing on November 8 to take stock of the case and make sure that everyone is working successfully towards your trial date.

"You don't have to attend but you may attend if you wish. Your counsel may attend by video link.

"You are on unconditional bail and that will continue, so you are free to leave."

Sage Willoughby arrives at Bristol Crown Court
Sage Willoughby arrives at Bristol Crown Court. Picture: PA

Ms Graham is of Colston Road, Bristol; Mr Ponsford is of Bishopstoke, Hampshire; Mr Skuse is of Farley Close, Bristol, and Mr Willoughby is of Gloucester Road, Bristol.

Ahead of the hearing, the legal firm representing three of the four defendants released a statement.

Raj Chada, head of criminal defence, and Laura O'Brien, associate, at London-based law firm Hodge Jones & Allen, said they would fight the charges "vigorously".

"We are committed to defending them and their right to a fair trial in this important case. We ask that their privacy is respected," they said.

The next hearing in the case will take place on November 8 at Bristol Crown Court.