Edward Colston: Bristol slave trader statue ‘was an affront’

A statue of a slave trader which was torn down during an anti-racism protest in Bristol was “an affront”, the city’s mayor has said.

Marvin Rees said he felt no “sense of loss” after the bronze statue of Edward Colston was pulled down using ropes and thrown into the harbour on Sunday.

The statue of the prominent 17th Century slave trader has been a source of controversy in the city for years.

Avon and Somerset Police said a decision was taken not to intervene.

Thousands of people attended largely peaceful demonstrations in cities across the UK at the weekend, including in Manchester, Wolverhampton, Nottingham, Glasgow and Edinburgh.

But unrest in London on Sunday resulted in eight police officers being injured and 12 arrests.

Marvin Rees
Image captionMarvin Rees said the statue would be retrieved and would likely be put into a museum

Ten thousand people descended on Bristol on Sunday for the protest which saw the Colston statue torn down and dragged through the streets to the harbour, where it was thrown into the water.

Colston was a member of the Royal African Company, which transported about 80,000 men, women and children from Africa to the Americas.

On his death in 1721, he bequeathed his wealth to charities and his legacy can still be seen on Bristol’s streets, memorials and buildings.

After the statue was toppled, a protester was pictured with his knee on the figure’s neck – reminiscent of the video showing George Floyd, the black man who died while being restrained by a Minnesota police officer.

Bristol’s mayor said the statue would be retrieved from the harbour “at some point” and it was likely to end up in a city museum.

“I think circumstances came to a head and people felt the need to take the statue down,” Mr Rees said.

“I can’t and won’t pretend the statue of a slave trader in a city I was born and grew up in wasn’t an affront to me and people like me.

“People in Bristol who don’t want that statue in the middle of the city came together and it is my job to unite, hear those voices and hold those truths together for people for who that statue is a personal affront.”

Edward Colston statue being thrown in harbour
Image captionThe statue of Edward Colston was dragged through Bristol before being thrown into the harbour

Police said a “tactical decision” was taken by officers at the protest not to intervene as people pulled the statue down.

Supt Andy Bennett said although he was “disappointed, he did understand” as the statue had caused “a lot of angst” for the city’s black community.

The Police Federation, which represents rank-and-file officers in England and Wales, has criticised the decision not to intervene, saying it sent a negative message.

Supt Bennett said police had identified 17 suspects over the criminal damage to the Colston statue and that investigations continued.

Mr Rees described the protest as a “well-managed occasion by police and council officers”.

“There was a very large number of people but very few arrests. Only one piece of criminal damage and that was at the statue, people didn’t go around smashing shop fronts or verbal confrontations,” he said.

But leader of the conservative group on Bristol City Council, Mark Weston, said the “perpetrators should be prosecuted for a wanton act of criminal damage”.

“I do not believe that anyone has the right to deface or destroy public property, no matter how warranted they believe their actions or motivation to be,” he said.

Black Live Matter protest
Image captionTen thousand people are estimated to have take part in the Bristol protest on Sunday

A petition has been set up at change.org for a statue of civil rights campaigner Dr Paul Stephenson to be erected as a replacement.

Dr Stephenson led the Bristol bus boycott in the 1960s, which resulted in a ban on ethnic minorities working on city buses being overturned.

Calls have also been made to remove the statue of imperialist Cecil Rhodes at Oriel College at Oxford, with campaigners saying the university had “failed to address its institutional racism”.

Boris Johnson has vowed that those responsible for violence during the anti-racism demonstrations in cities will be held to account.

The prime minister said the protests had been “subverted by thuggery”.

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