Bristol's slavery 'cancer' was 'surgically removed' by Colston Four, says historian David Olusoga

6 January 2022, 11:48 | Updated: 6 January 2022, 12:59

By Tim Dodd

Professor David Olusoga, who was a witness for the defence of the 'Colston Four', says the group who pulled down Bristol's Edward Colston statue "surgically removed" the city's slavery "cancer".

His comments come after Transport Secretary Grant Shapps told LBC "we can’t have mob rule as the way forward", as he condemned the pulling down of the Edward Colston statue, after four people were cleared of causing criminal damage.

Speaking to Nick Ferrari at Breakfast, Grant Shapps said: "If you want to take down a statue, if you want to change what's in the public realm, what's displayed, that’s absolutely legitimate.

"But that is done through the ballot box, that is done through petitioning your local councillor. Get yourself elected, do it the right way, we can’t have mob rule as the way forward."

Read more: Colston Four say 'we rectified history' as they're cleared over statue toppling

James asked Mr Olusoga: "What was at stake and what was at the heart of this court case in your view?"

"At the heart of the court case was a question of whether history matters," Professor David Olusoga replied.

"The prosecution's argument was that this was a very simple case of criminal damage, and it didn't matter, in their contention, that this was a statue of a man who was involved in the enslavement and killing of thousands of people.

"And the defence wanted this to be a trial in which history was at the centre because you can't understand, you can't make sense of what happened in the summer of 2020 unless we appreciate that this was a targeted political act against a man who was validated, whose career was celebrated in Bristol in the full knowledge that he was a mass murderer."

James asked Mr Olusoga how he responded to fears that the ruling would offer "carte blanche to all of us to tear down any public monument we might not like the look of".

"It's fascinating, the people who will say they're defending Britishness, British values, and the rule of law don't actually understand anything about the law in England and Wales because this is a jury trial," Mr Olusoga told LBC.

"Legal precedent is not established by the decisions of juries."

Mr Olusoga concluded: "This court case has recognised that there was another injury here being caused, to real people and their real emotions, rather than to a hunk of bronze and marble."

The so-called "Colston Four" were cleared after prosecutors charged them over the toppling of the slave trader's monument in Bristol during a Black Lives Matter protest in June 2020.

Rhian Graham, 30, Milo Ponsford, 26, Sage Willoughby, 22, and Jake Skuse, 33, laughed with relief when the verdicts were returned as cheers went up from the public gallery.

Colston, a merchant who lived in the 17th and early 18th century, made his fortune through the slave trade.

He donated money to various institutions in Bristol, with buildings often bearing his name, though there has been a drive in the modern era to disassociate from him.

That included a bid to remove his controversial statue - it was ripped down then dragged and rolled about 500 metres to be dumped in the harbour during a protest.

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