Four face trial in UK over toppling of slave trader statue

London (AFP) – Four people were due to go on trial in Britain on Monday in connection with the toppling of a statue of a 17th century slave trader during anti-racism protests.


Demonstrators pulled down the bronze memorial to Edward Colston in Bristol, western England, on June 7 last year, then dragged it to the city's harbour and threw it in the River Avon.

The actions came as part of global Black Lives Matter protests prompted by the killing by a white police officer of George Floyd, an unarmed black man, in the United States the previous month.

Four people were arrested following the toppling of the statue of Colston, a leading figure in the Royal Africa Company which forcibly moved large numbers of West Africans.

Their trial on charges of criminal damage to the listed monument is due to start at 1000 GMT at Bristol Crown Court on Monday, according to court documents.

The defendants -- Rhian Graham, 29, Milo Ponsford, 25, Jake Skuse, 36, and Sage Willoughby, 21 -- have pleaded not guilty.

To support them, the artist Banksy, who comes from Bristol, announced he would be selling T-shirts to mark the occasion for £25 ($33, 30 euros).

"All proceeds to the defendants so they can go for a pint," the elusive graffiti artist wrote on his Instagram page.

The limited edition grey souvenir tops have a picture of Colston's empty plinth with a rope hanging off, debris and a discarded sign, as well as the word "BRISTOL" written above.

The Black Lives Matter protests have forced Britain into a reckoning with its colonial past, prompting a reassessment of statues, road names and buildings linked to historical figures associated with slavery.

Several Bristol institutions bearing Colston's name have since changed their name to avoid negative associations with him and the slave trade.

The statue, which had stood in the city since 1895, was recovered from the Avon and put on display with placards from the event, along with explanations of what happened and why.

The statue of former British prime minister Winston Churchill was defaced during a Black Lives Matter demonstration in London last June
The statue of former British prime minister Winston Churchill was defaced during a Black Lives Matter demonstration in London last June ISABEL INFANTES AFP

The empty plinth was temporarily replaced by a statue of a female protester from the day, but it was taken down within 24 hours as it did not have local authority permission.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson's government is pressing ahead with contentious legislation to toughen jail terms for vandalism of historical artefacts.

During the countrywide protests, a statue of Johnson's hero, Winston Churchill, was defaced near parliament, branding the World War II leader a racist.

High-profile protests have also been held in Oxford, calling for the removal of a statue of the 19th century colonialist Cecil Rhodes.