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- British slave trader, merchant, philanthropist and politician
A protester who helped roll the statue of Edward Colston to Bristol Harbour and throw it in the water has said he was staging a symbolic “sentencing” of the slave trader.
The memorial to the 17th century merchant was toppled during a Black Lives Matter march in June 2020, before being dragged and rolled 500m and dumped in the harbour.
It became an iconic moment in the anti-racism protests staged around the world in the wake of the murder of George Floyd by police in the US.
Jake Skuse, 33, is one of four people on trial for criminal damage for allegedly orchestrating the moving of the statue to the water’s edge.
His co-defendants Rhian Graham, 30, Milo Ponsford, 26, and Sage Willoughby, 22, are accused of helping to pull the statue down.
Giving evidence on Wednesday, Skuse told the court he accepts rolling it towards Pero’s Bridge, named after an enslaved man who lived in Bristol, and throwing it in the harbour.
“I don’t think the council did their job properly – if there was a racist piece of graffiti they would have removed it,” he said.
Skuse said he had never signed any of the many petitions to have the statue taken down “because I thought it would have fallen on deaf ears”.
Asked if he had spoken to the council, he replied: “If I haven’t signed a petition, I’m not going to ring the council am I?”
The defendant was not present when the statue was pulled down, and instead arrived a few minutes later after receiving a phone call from a friend about it.
Describing hearing the news, Skuse said: “I didn’t believe it, I was like ‘no way’ – people have wanted it down for years.
“I just needed to go and see for myself.”
Skuse said he felt it would be “significant” to drag the statue along the cobbles to the harbour, because he thought enslaved people might have been dragged to the ships there.
He said he was not sure if his history was correct, but added: “It just felt right.”
Skuse was caught on CCTV shouting “say something” as the statue was hoisted over the railings.
He told the court he had wanted someone to say something to mark the occasion.
“It was like a sentence, we were sentencing him to death – we all had to come together and say a few words and then he (Colston) could f*** off.”
When asked if he thought he was damaging the statue, he said: “It didn’t even enter my head. It was a piece of trash on the floor when I turned up.
“I knew I was in the right, I knew everyone wanted it down, I knew Bristol wanted it, everyone wanted the same thing.”
The defendant said he felt the statue should be thrown in the river “so the council couldn’t do their job incorrectly again and put it back up”.
At one point on the statue’s journey to the harbour, Skuse peeled off to go and get a soft drink, the jury heard.
Skuse became irritated with questions about his previous attempts to get the statue taken down.
He told the prosecutor: “Look, I’ll make it really easy for you, I did nothing before that day except piss and s*** (moan) about it.”
When asked if the 10,000 people at the march were from Bristol, he replied: “Don’t know. Didn’t ask them.”
Skuse said the stunt had been “to expose (Colston) for the git he is” and “get people talking about real facts”.
Graham, of Colston Road, Bristol; Ponsford, of Otter Close, Bishopstoke, Hampshire; Skuse, of Farley Close, Bristol; and Willoughby, of Gloucester Road, Bristol, are on unconditional bail.