Quick Roundup: Bristol Cases

This week has seen a number of cases from the rebellious city come before the dock related to both clashes with police and the 2020 toppling of Edward Colston’s statue. The Colston Four have been getting a particularly well publicised court showing, while a trickle of other verdicts are coming in related to the riot in March.

Ryan Roberts

The most punitive case of the week was that of a 25-year-old person of no fixed abode accused of burning a cop car and shouting abuse at officers, who was given 14 years by Judge James Patrick for their role in the March 21 protest against the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill. The rally, provoked by repeated attacks from armoured cops, turned into serious clashes which provided the most angry expression of spring’s wave of protests.

A jury convicted Ryan of rioting, attempted arson with intent to endanger life, attempted arson being reckless as to whether life was endangered, and two counts of arson being reckless as to whether life was endangered. Their sentence is by far the longest in a series of exemplary sentencing cases related to the rally, with previous convictions having gotten between three and five years.

Solidarity protests took place in the aftermath of the verdict and Bristol ABC has called for solidarity to support them in prison.

March 21: Scores on the doors

A GBC rep reports that In total there were originally 191 suspects in relation to the March 21st riot, of whom 83 have been arrested and one youth questioned under caution. Forty-four have been charged as of the time of writing, two cautioned and 25 released with “no further action.” Thirteen people are awaiting a charging decision by the CPS.

Of those charged, 11 have pleaded guilty and one (Ryan) was found guilty at trial. Another 32 people are still awaiting trial (including one on remand, one is on the run). Of those awaiting trial 30 are for riot.

Bristol ABC is being active in supporting the people sent down so far who have requested it, raising a fund of more than £25,000 and keeping a list of contacts for anyone who wants to send support and correspondence.

The Colston Four

The four people charged with criminal damage of the Colston Statue have been in court all this week, resuming on Monday. Over the course of the trial so far defendants Rhian Graham, Milo Ponsford, Jake Skuse and Sage Willoughby have been accused variously of pulling the statue down and rolling it to the harbour.

Milo Ponsford, speaking in court on Wednesay, said of the tribute to Bristol’s most famous slaver: “I thought it was necessary for Bristol, and the people of Bristol, for the statue to go” and argued that it was a disgrace the monument had been allowed to stand for so long. He argued that ““I believe I had a lawful excuse to damage that statue, preventing further harm to the people of Bristol.”

And of the moment that it fell, he said: “I ran over to where the statue had fallen and jumped up and down around it for a few moments. I couldn’t believe it had happened. It felt like a successful victory to have this statue finally toppled.”

Information from the prosecution case mentioned text messages that were exchanged between Milo and Sage about the statue prior to its being brought down, which were subsequently accessed by police when they seized Milo’s phone. As the Bristolian, which has been following the case closely, notes, this part of the case acts …

“… as a useful reminder to activists to NEVER arrange or discuss any action by text message. If Milo and Sage had done the old-fashioned thing and phoned each other, the only evidence Cron would have is the location of the two phones and the fact calls had been exchanged between the two. All just circumstantial evidence. The content of their conversation would never have been known as intercepting telecommunications requires a warrant. Accessing text messages does not.”

Fellow defendant Rhian also admitted to being at the protest at interview, according to evidence given by Detective Constable Matthew Cron of Bristol CID.

Day four of the trial, which took place on Friday, was opened with a blistering statement from Sage Willoughby, who said: “I have been signing petitions since I was 11 years old to have that statue removed, I spoke to my elders about it, I was quite frankly laughed at – they said they had given up signing petitions because nothing was ever going to happen …

“Colston was a racist and a slave trader who murdered thousands and enslaved even more. Imagine having a Hitler statue in front of a holocaust survivor, it feels similar if not worse … I think it was a hate crime having that statue left up there so I felt legitimate in what I was doing.”

This was followed by an authoritative turn by historian David Olosuga, who outlined some of the horrors done in the name of the Royal African Company, a firm in which Colston both invested heavily and where he had a role as an executive: “They would brand Africans who they had purchased; they would brand them with the initials RAC. … a piece of hot metal in the shape of those initials was burned into their chests,” he said, adding that this would be done to children as young as nine years old.”

For more on Colston’s past check out Bristol Radical History’s essay here. The trial continues Monday morning and is being reported on daily by Alternative Bristol as well as the Bristol Post.