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- British slave trader, merchant, philanthropist and politician
One of the four people cleared of charges relating to the tearing down a statue of slave trader Edward Colston has said jury trials and freedom of speech are the “cornerstones of our society” amid a backlash over the verdict.
The bronze memorial to the 17th century figure was pulled down during a Black Lives Matter protest in Bristol on June 7 2020, before being rolled into the water in the wake of the murder of George Floyd by a police officer in the US.
Rhian Graham, 30, Milo Ponsford, 26, and Sage Willoughby, 22, Jake Skuse, 33, were acquitted of criminal damage on Wednesday following an 11-day trial at Bristol Crown Court.
The verdict prompted a debate about the criminal justice system after the defendants, dubbed the Colston Four, opted to stand trial in front of a jury and did not deny involvement in the incident.
Ms Graham told Times Radio: “Damaging things in order to be heard and to progress with equality and better society is not a new thing.
“I, as a woman, wouldn’t have the right to vote had suffragettes not gone and smashed windows and destroyed postboxes in the name of women’s right to vote.
“So this really isn’t a new thing. And obviously, we have gone through the justice system. I know there’s a lot of people saying it was not democratic.
“And, you know, what is democratic is our freedom of speech and jury trials. And one of our barristers mentioned the fact that those two things are really cornerstones of our democracy.
“And what really isn’t democratic is the displays of police brutality that we see which caused so much uproar within the BLM movement.”
Ms Graham also said she felt it was her time to “show solidarity” for black people in the UK, and that lockdown gave her a chance to reflect on the issues they have faced.
It comes after Attorney General Suella Braverman said the verdict is causing “confusion” and she is “carefully considering” whether to use powers which allow her to seek a review.
Some lawyers said this would be “Trumpian politics” and described the furore over the acquittals as a “complete waste of time” and damaging confidence in the justice system.
Opponents urged Ms Braverman not to “play political games when she doesn’t like the results”.