Colston judge was worried about pressure on jury: Defence lawyers were told off for urging jury to be on ‘right side of history’ in statue-toppling case
- ‘Colston Four’ were all cleared of causing criminal damage to Bristol statue
- Judge feared defence lawyers may have placed jury under ‘wrongful’ pressure
- Barrister Liam Walker apologised for urging jury to ‘be on right side of history’
The judge in the Colston statue trial feared defence lawyers may have placed the jury under ‘wrongful’ pressure by urging them to be ‘on the right side of history’.
Judge Peter Blair QC said jurors may have felt an ‘additional burden on their shoulders’ after hearing a barrister’s claims about the global impact of their decision.
Jake Skuse, 33, Rhian Graham, 30, Milo Ponsford, 26, and Sage Willoughby, 22, were all cleared of criminal damage, despite CCTV evidence showing their roles in toppling the Edward Colston statue during a Black Lives Matter protest in Bristol in June 2020.
In his closing speech, barrister Liam Walker, representing Mr Willoughby, said: ‘Make no mistake, members of the jury, your decision is not just going to be felt in this courtroom or this city.
Judge Peter Blair QC feared defence lawyers in the Colston statue trial may have placed the jury under ‘wrongful’ pressure by urging them to be ‘on the right side of history’
‘It will reverberate around the world. I urge you all to be on the right side of history.’
Mr Walker, a leading barrister from Doughty Street Chambers, apologised for his remarks after Judge Blair raised concerns.
The judge told the jury to ‘focus their decision-making’ on the defendants’ accounts of what happened, and not on the alleged wider impact of the statue’s removal.
Robert Poll, from the Save Our Statues campaign, said: ‘The judge’s comments clearly suggest that undue pressure was put on the jury to deliver the ‘right’ verdict or else face the consequences.
‘The fact that he told them not to feel pressured doesn’t change the fact that it happened, or mean they did not.’
Meanwhile, MPs last night said the decision to allow a historian who ‘desperately’ wanted to join the Colston statue protest to give expert evidence to the trial was ‘absurd’.
Sage Willoughby, 22, Jake Skuse, 33, Milo Ponsford, 26, and Rhian Graham, 30, (pictured from left) were all cleared of criminal damage, despite CCTV evidence showing their roles in toppling the Edward Colston statue during a Black Lives Matter protest in Bristol in June 2020.
Critics claimed that letting Professor David Olusoga speak in front of the Colston Four jury converted a criminal trial into a political one.
They questioned whether jurors were unfairly swayed by the involvement in the case of prominent campaigners, who also included Bristol-born artist Banksy and specialist protest lawyer and Labour politician Raj Chada.
During the two-week trial, prosecutors argued that BLM supporter Professor Olusoga should not have been allowed to give evidence for the defendants due to his well-known stance on the statue’s vandalism.
The academic, who has produced several documentaries about slavery for the BBC, has also publicly accused Winston Churchill of the equivalent of modern-day ‘war crimes’.
Tory MP Peter Bone said last night: ‘The decision seems absurd. But I guess the defence can call whichever expert witness they want. It’s up to the prosecution to point out possible issues.’
In an interview shortly after the statue was felled, Professor Olusoga expressed his torment at not taking part in the demonstration.
Speaking to Radio Times, the 51-year-old academic admitted he ‘desperately’ wanted to join the protesters, adding: ‘I fought enormously against the urge to jump on my bike and cycle down there – my home is only ten minutes away.’
He said he did not participate because he had promised his family he would be ‘careful’ during the Covid pandemic.
Political commentator Calvin Robinson criticised the judge for allowing the ‘biased’ academic to provide expert witness.
He said: ‘David Olusoga was obviously biased, but more importantly he’s not an expert in the destruction of property, he is a historian. This court case should have had nothing to do with history. It was about the destruction of public property.’
Mr Robinson added: ‘Clearly it was Colston on trial, and not the Black Lives Matter thugs. The whole trial was on Colston – it wasn’t entirely relevant and now the result looks political.’
During the trial, prosecutor William Hughes QC unsuccessfully argued that Professor Olusoga’s historical evidence was irrelevant.
After the verdict, he said: ‘In our view, Olusoga’s testimony didn’t add anything.
‘Rather, it was a gloss that I can imagine would have put anyone in the jury at a degree of unease.’
Professor Olusoga welcomed the verdict, adding: ‘All I did was lay down the facts.’
Doughty Street Chambers did not respond to a request for comment yesterday.
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