WHEN the statue of Edward Colston was circled in rope, ripped to the ground and ditched in the river by an angry mob, the idea that those involved were NOT committing criminal damage was laughable.
The 10,000-strong BLM protest that lined the streets of Bristol that day in 2020 was mostly peaceful. But it escalated when a raucous gang of hooligans dragged the 17th-century slave trader’s statue into the harbour.
I watched this pantomime at the time, as spineless authorities seemingly stood idly by while the destructive mob ripped up a part of the city at their own ideological whims.
I was not alone in condemning the tactics of these lefty activists. Home Secretary Priti Patel called the toppling of the statue a “completely unacceptable” and “utterly disgraceful” act.
The Prime Minister’s official spokes-man even went as far as dubbing the incident a “criminal act” for which those involved would be “held to account”.
And I was at least comforted by the fact there would be repercussions for such uncivil, unnecessary, un-British destruction of property. How mistaken we all were.
Now the four people charged with criminal damage for the incident have officially been declared innocent by a jury, my fears have been realised.
The “Colston 4” admitted they played a part in bringing down the statue and throwing it in the river. However, their defence was that Colston’s statue itself was a hate crime.
Don’t get me wrong, the fact I find the verdict depressing is not because I think Edward Colston is anything other than deplorable. As an African myself, I can assure you I shed no tears about the ex-slaver’s empty plinth in Bristol. His crimes were unforgivable.
But in civil, democratic society, proper process and repercussions matter. I get that Bristolians who had been campaigning for the statue to be taken down for decades were frustrated. But frustration is simply not enough to take matters violently into your own hands.
This acquittal surely diminishes the severity of ideologically-motivated destruction of property. Yes, we have to respect that the four defendants on trial for this act are now nothing but innocent under the law. That is an unfortunate reality I and others will reluctantly swallow.
But while this jury verdict does not set a new legal precedent, I worry about the precedent it sets for British society as a whole.
The last thing we need to do is empower the likes of these anarchists.
It is wishful thinking at best, and blinding ignorance at worst, to believe that those who want to rid Britain of monuments, literature and artefacts they don’t agree with politically will not be emboldened by this.
Those who see proper democratic procedures as nothing but an inconvenience will be rubbing their hands at the fact nobody has faced punishment for the damage done to Colston’s statue.
The result in this trial sends a signal: If you disagree with something, you might as well take your chances and disfigure, damage or outright destroy it.
And it is a grave act of foolishness to think that it stops at statues. The road to carelessly and mercilessly stripping away a country’s heritage is short and slippery. We had already seen that you don’t have to be an abhorrent slave trader to be targeted by destruction-hungry hoodlums.
In 2020, rioters daubed graffiti on the statue of Winston Churchill in Parliament Square during BLM protests. We even saw a disgraceful demonstrator climbing on top of the Cenotaph and attempting to set light to the Union Flag in a shocking display of disrespect towards war heroes.
He later avoided jail at court. The last thing we need to do is empower the likes of these anarchists.
People who hate women might well be inclined to throw a rope around suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst’s statue in St Peter’s Square, Manchester, and throw it in the sewers.
Think black and white people shouldn’t mix in modern society? Why not try your luck at bulldozing anti-apartheid hero Nelson Mandela’s bronze sculpture in Parliament Square and ditching it in the Thames?
These only seem like extreme examples because, until now, it was generally assumed that destroying property for ideological reasons was wrong and punishable in a democratic civil society.
This shameful episode clearly rocks that status quo. Edward Colston had a graceless demise from “one of the most virtuous sons of the city” (as his plaque once read) to being a graffitied relic fished out of the river by Bristol Council.
I don’t lose sleep over the fact he no longer looks over the city. But I worry deeply about HOW that came to be.
We simply cannot sleepwalk into a society that doesn’t take politically-fuelled destruction of property seriously.