Eastleigh man acquitted in slave trader statue trial

'I thought that a statue that celebrates a figure such as Colston was disgraceful, and offensive to the people of Bristol'

Milo Ponsford (centre) with co-defendants following not guilty verdict . Pic: Screen cap BBC News.

An Eastleigh man who was accused of accused of causing criminal damage to the statue of Edward Colston the 18th Century slave trader has been acquitted at Bristol Crown Court along with three other defendants.

Milo Ponsford (26), a carpenter whose given home address is in Bishopstoke but is understood to have a workshop in Bristol, took part in a Black Lives Matter protest march in the city last June.

The march was one of series of spontaneous world-wide events in reaction to the murder in Minneapolis of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man, by a white police officer.

During the Bristol protest a large crowd, that included the defendants, pulled a statue of Edward Colston off of its plinth before dragging to a bridge and dumping it in the River Avon, damaging both the monument and some railings in the process.

The statue had been erected in the 19th Century to commemorate Colston’s role as a public benefactor – but his acts of civic philanthropy had been funded through his involvement in the inhumane and degrading practice of slave trading. Over 80,000 Africans including 12,000 children had been enslaved by the Royal African Company of which Colston was a director.

The court heard how residents in Bristol had previously and unsuccessfully raised several petitions and collected thousands of signatures urging Bristol City Council to remove the statue as inappropriate and offensive to the majority of the city’s diverse, multicultural population. Lawyers for the ‘Colston 4’ argued that the statue’s continued presence was so abusive as to constitute a hate crime.

Mr Ponsford told the court:

 I thought that a statue that celebrates a figure such as Colston was disgraceful, and offensive to the people of Bristol.

Yesterday, the jury agreed and Mr Ponsford along with Sage Willoughby, Rhian Graham and Jake Skuse were found ‘not guilty’ by an 11 to 1 majority decision.

Following the trial the eminent historian Professor David Olusoga OBE – who had given expert evidence during proceedings  –  hailed the verdict telling the Guardian:

For 300 years Edward Colston was remembered as a philanthropist, his role in the slave trade and his many thousands of victims were airbrushed out of the story.

The toppling of the statue and the passionate defence made in court by the Colston Four makes that deliberate policy of historical myopia now an impossibility.