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UK police investigate after protesters throw statue of slave-trader MP into Bristol harbour

A crowd which had joined a Black Lives Matter protest in Bristol tore down the statue of Edward Colston.

The Edward Colston statue in Bristol.
The Edward Colston statue in Bristol.
Image: Ben Birchall via PA Images

Updated Jun 7th 2020, 6:00 PM

UK POLICE HAVE launched an investigation after protesters in Bristol pulled down the controversial statue of a 17th Century slave trader and MP, Edward Colston.

The bronze memorial to Colston, situated in the city centre since 1895, was torn down after crowds left the city’s College Green and later was dumped into Bristol harbour.

It had been the subject of an 11,000-strong petition to have it removed.

Around 10,000 people in Bristol took part in the Black Lives Matter demonstration today, which was praised by Avon and Somerset police for being “peaceful and respectful”.

Images showed crowds rushing to stamp on the statue, which stood in Colston Avenue, before it was rolled along the road and pushed into the harbour.

Home Secretary Priti Patel has said that the toppling of the Colston statue is “utterly disgraceful”, and said that the police should ‘follow up’ on the incident.

No arrest were made, but officers are now said to be collating footage of a “small group of people” who were filmed pulling down the statue with ropes, which police say amounted to criminal damage.

Superintendent Andy Bennett said: “The vast majority of those who came to voice their concerns about racial inequality and injustice did so peacefully and respectfully.

“The ongoing coronavirus pandemic added a different dynamic to what was always going to be a challenging policing operation.”

He added: “However, there was a small group of people who clearly committed an act of criminal damage in pulling down a statue near Bristol Harbourside.”

Images showed crowds rushing to stamp on the statue, which stood in Colston Avenue, before it was rolled along the road and pushed into the harbour.

The bridge overlooking the spot where it was thrown into the water is named Pero’s Bridge, after Pero Jones – an enslaved man who lived and died in the city.

After the statue was pulled down, people laid placards on the ground and shouted “no justice, no peace” and “Black Lives Matter”.

Some climbed on top of the plinth to deliver speeches or say a prayer and were widely applauded by the crowd, with vehicles driving past sounding their horns in support.

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Jasmine Boatswain, a graduate PE teacher, and her friends came to see where the statute had stood.

“I need to come here to see this statue come down,” she told the PA news agency.

To see it ripped down is difficult to put into words. It really embodies the whole movement.

“We are not taking it anymore. We are sick to the teeth of having to experience racism and see racism in our faces.

Even if you don’t know anything about Black Lives Matter, just looking at this is such a powerful thing. 

black-lives-matter-protests Source: Ben Birchall via PA Images

Earlier, protester John McAllister, aged 71, told the PA news agency: “It says ‘erected by the citizens of Bristol, as a memorial to one of the most virtuous and wise sons of this city’.

The man was a slave trader. He was generous to Bristol but it was off the back of slavery and it’s absolutely despicable. It’s an insult to the people of Bristol.

According to Historic England, the statue was sculpted by John Cassidy, of Manchester, with an inscription that read “erected by citizens of Bristol as a memorial of one of the most virtuous and wise sons of their city AD 1895”.

Colston’s involvement in the slave trade through the British-based Royal African Company was the source of much of the money which he bestowed in Bristol, the website added.

The statue was one of a number of landmarks in Bristol to take Colston’s name, although the nearby music venue Colston Hall will be renamed this year as part of a major refurbishment. 

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