Update: Today’s pre-trial hearing at Bristol Crown Court has set a full trial start date of Monday 13th December, with upto 8 days being set aside for the trial. That’ll be an absurd 18months after the Colston Statue was Toppled. It may not be popular timing with whoever ends up on the Jury, in the run up to xmas. Let’s hope we’re not in the midst of another covid-19 lockdown too! Much may happen in the next 10months – from a new Mayor & possibly Council being elected, to who knows what with the pandemic, and probably a worsening recession? So it’s game on! But our demand to ‘Drop The Charges’ remains, it’s the most sensible option, and the most just. Can we collectively make that happen?
Original article: The four Colston Statue Defendants – the Colston 4 – are back in court today. This time they are at Bristol Crown Court for what is known as a Pre Trial Plea HearingUpdate. This is largely an administrative, or Directions hearing, that will discuss how the actual Trial will proceed. We expect the hearing to start soon after 10am.
The Prosecution (CPS) and Defence lawyers will agree a Timeline for the Trial (ie dates when certain things such as documents, statements etc must be submitted) with the Judge, and the actual start date of the Trial may be set. It is possible there may be some legal arguments over what issues & evidence can or cannot be included in the Trial, alternatively these arguments may occur on another date. The Defendants may attend in person, or remotely online. It is possible they may have to Plead again (Not Guilty or Guilty) even though they’ve already done this once at Bristol Magistrates on 25 January. It is anticipated the Court hearing may only last for an hour. Because it is only an administrative type hearing, and because we are all still in covid19 lockdown, there’s been no attempt by the Colston 4’s supporters & other campaigners to organise any public protest events. Plenty of time for that…if it actually does come to a Trial. In the meantime, we understand that behind the scenes, some legal arguments between the CPS & Defence are ongoing…
Drop The Charges!
So it’s an appropriate time to raise this demand quite clearly. Here’s a few reasons why:
1. This is a political trial – and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise!
Senior Government Ministers, including PM Johnson, & Home Sceretary Patel, have been intervening in this case ever since the Colston Statue was rightfully pulled down. By their actions and their descriptions of protesters they have made it clear they expect some people to be punished. Their power, influence & authority as heads of Govt, and the media coverage they receive, makes it virtually impossible for the defendants to get a fair trial. One must also wonder how much influence they have had over the decisions to prosecute these 4 individuals?
At the same time, we know that Bristol Council has collaborated with the Police & Prosecution in bringing this case to trial – they have given a statement to the police that ensured the persecution of some of the 1000’s present at the Black Lives Matter protest last 7th June. But why did they do that, when they didn’t have to? Bristol Council is Labour controlled, and led by the UK’s first black Mayor, so you would expect them to have supported a protest and an action that stood up to structural racism, police brutality/racism, and tore down the statue of a man guilty of the mass murder & exploitation of enslaved African people (Colston & his pals didn’t treat the white Bristolian working class that much better – they too were exploited, worked to death in many cases, and left to live in poverty in slums). So what’s up with Labour, the party of the working class? Well all we can presume is that they’ve put their political careers & pursuit of power above any principles they might have once had. They too have made this a political trial by siding with the British ruling class, a racist Govt, and it’s state agencies.
Ranged against the defendants we have the full weight of the British political establishment, the judiciary & police, and their right-wing pals who own most of the mainstream media. This is a political trial, and it won’t be a fair one either.
2. This is persecution of a very few individuals, out of a crowd of thousands.
After the protest on 7th June, during which the police made no arrests, and there was no damage apart from the toppling of the Colston statue…the police were forced into action by the orders of the Tory Government. Within a few days the police said they’d managed to identify 18 people, out of the hundreds who participated in the statue toppling & rolling it into the harbour, and the thousands who cheered it all on. 15 of those 18 had their photos plastered all over local, national & international media, whilst still being innocent of any alleged crime. Out of the select 18, the police were only able to hunt down 10. Of those 10, 6 were given Conditional cautions. For reasons that remain unclear, the police & CPS have targetted just 4 people. They are being made the scapegoats, the pound of flesh, the ones who must pay for the actions of many. The establishment wants to make an example of them, to deter everyone else from daring to challenge their authority, power & racism. It is up to all of us to ensure that doesn’t happen. We must be back on the streets soon. Black Lives Still Matter. Slave traders, racists & bigots have to keep falling if we are to move forwards.
3. The Council say they want a ‘Conversation’, but help persecute those who had something to say!
Straight after the Colston statue toppling, the Bristol Mayor announced the setting up of a History Commmission, to investigate Bristol’s history, and to lead a conversation about it to arrive at some vague recommendations as to how we should proceed. That Commission has no official public remit, no known budget, they weren’t chosen by anyone but the Mayor, they’ve had little or no interaction with the wider Bristol public, there’s no website or other interface with the wider world, there’s been no conversation. After nearly 9 months, as far as we can tell they’ve done pretty much sweet FA. But…the Chair, a Bristol University professor, did co-operate with the police in setting the Conditions of the Cautions for 6 people; they have spoken at a couple of online middle class talking shops, and they did give an interview to the Guardian on 21 February. Are they impartial? Are they listening to any ordinary people? Not so far they’re not. So far they’re nothing more than a part of the establishment, maintaining the status quo, ensuring nothing changes. There are one or two decent people on that Commission, at least one has spoken in support of the Colston defendants. We think those that have principles…should resign on mass. And demand – Drop The Charges! We can’t have a conversation whilst some people are being persecuted for fighting back against the legacy of the slave trade and ongoing structural racism that serves to maintain the power & wealth of a tiny elite. We can’t have a conversation whilst those who gained so much power & wealth from the slave trade and the general exploitation of ordinary people are left untouched.
4. The trial is divisive – it may lead to further social unrest
There is no doubt that the toppling of Colston’s statue was popular. After years of the authorities, including the current Bristol Labour Council & Mayor, doing absolutely nothing about the celebration of Colston & the continuing power of those who cheerleaded for him, once Colston was down it opened the floodgates. Schools, venues, street names, buildings, pubs, societies & more, all of which had carried Colston’s name for decades & centuries, all of a sudden they couldn’t wait to get rid of him. What campaigners had struggled to achieve for many years, was suddenly accelerated once Colston fell. This ripple effect was felt around the world. The Colston toppling was a significant global event that inspired others. Around the UK over 70 similar monuments to bigots like Colston were removed by protesters or local authorities. A petition in Bristol demanding no prosecutions was signed by over 170,000 people, or three times the number who voted for Mayor Rees in 2016. If the ruling elites, local & national, choose to ignore these cries of anguish about injustice & inequality, and instead persecute those who take action to remedy them, then the consequences will be on their heads. All of us, of all skin colours, need to step up and say enough is enough. Demand justice, equality, and a future worth living. Be informed, get organised, be ready.
The protesters on 7th June clearly decided Colston’s towering racist presence could continue no more, and pulled him down. Well done we say – We All Did It!
So get ready & get active – here’s some local links that will provide you with all the info, news & comment you need to get upto speed & involved:
Countering Colston campaign – FB / twitter – @CounterColston / useful links for more reading
All Black Lives Bristol (organisers of 7th June and later protests) – Instagram / FB /
Bristol Radical History Group – articles on Slavery & Resistance / articles on Colston / twitter – @BrisRadHis
Alternative Bristol – articles on Colston & protests / FB / twitter – @Alt_Bristol_
Bristol Cable – articles related to Colston / article looking at reparatory justice
Bristol Post – articles over several years on Colston & related issues – mainly by journalist Tristan Cork
Byline Times (8 June article) – 12 Facts that Prove Black Lives Don’t Matter in Britain
St Paul’s Carnival – scroll down this link here for history resources
The Centre for the Study of the Legacies of British Slave-ownership – research and analysis of slave-owners & how they benefitted from compensation when slavery abolished (NO slaves were compensated!)
Bristol Defendant Solidarity – Know Your Rights – info & legal support for protesters