Bristol mayor has 'no sense of loss' over slave trader statue thrown in harbour by Black Lives Matter protesters

Bristol’s mayor says he feels “no sense of loss” after a statue of a slave trader was pulled down during anti-racism protests.

Marvin Rees said that as a person of Jamaican heritage, the statue was a “personal affront” to him while he was growing up in the city.

The bronze memorial to Edward Colston, which had stood in the city centre since 1895, was ripped down and dumped into Bristol harbour by Black Lives Matter demonstrators on Sunday.

The statue had been the subject of an 11,000-strong petition to have it removed. Crowds rushed to stamp on the statue after it was pulled down with ropes, before it was rolled along the road and pushed into the harbour.

Bristol's mayor Marvin Rees said the statue of slave trader Edward Colston was a "personal affront" to him as a person of Jamaican heritage. (PA Images)
Protesters throw the statue of slave trader Edward Colston into Bristol harbour during a Black Lives Matter protest rally on Sunday (PA)

Police have defended their decision not to intervene as demonstrators toppled the statue and threw it in the water, but have been criticised by officers’ representatives and the home secretary.

Thousands of people took to the streets across the UK at the weekend for Black Lives Matter rallies following the death of African-American man George Floyd.

The 46-year-old died in Minneapolis last month after a white police officer held him down by pressing a knee into his neck. Four officers have been charged over his death.

Read more: 12 arrested in Black Lives Matter protest in central London

On Monday, Rees told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: "As an elected politician, obviously I cannot condone the damage and I am very concerned about the implications of a mass gathering on the possibility of a second COVID wave.

"But I am of Jamaican heritage and I cannot pretend that I have any real sense of loss for the statue, and I cannot pretend it was anything other than a personal affront to me to have it in the middle of Bristol, the city in which I grew up."

A protester presses a knee to the statue of slave trader Edward Colston during a Black Lives Matter protest in Bristol on Sunday (PA)

Asked whether he wanted to see those involved with removing the statue charged, Rees said: "That is up to the criminal justice system.”

On Sunday, Superintendent Andy Bennett of Somerset and Avon Police explained why the force did not intervene.

He told the BBC: “We made a very tactical decision that to stop people from doing the act may have caused further disorder, and we decided the safest thing to do, in terms of our policing tactics, was to allow it to take place.”

Graffiti on the Winston Churchill statue in London during the Black Lives Matter protest rally on Sunday (PA)

Andy Marsh, chief constable of Avon and Somerset Police, backed his officers for not intervening and said that doing so could have led to violence.

He said: "Can you imagine scenes of police in Bristol fighting with protesters who were damaging the statue of a man who is reputed to have gathered much of his fortune through the slave trade?”

Home secretary Priti Patel branded the incident "utterly disgraceful", while policing minister Kit Malthouse called for those responsible to be prosecuted.

John Apter, the chairman of the Police Federation, which represents rank-and-file officers in England and Wales, said the decision to have no police presence sent a negative message.

He told BBC Breakfast: "I understand there has been a lot of controversy about this statue for many years, so the question is: why didn't those in the local authority consider taking it down long before, rather than waiting for these actions?"

On Monday, Malthouse told BBC Breakfast: "A crime was committed, criminal damage was committed, there should be evidence gathered and a prosecution should follow.”

Signs by the empty plinth where the statue of Edward Colston in Bristol once stood after it was taken down during a Black Lives Matter protest on Sunday (PA)

He added: "We have to have a sense of order and democracy – that is how we sort things out and that is what should have happened.

"What we can't have is mobs just turning up and deciding to do whatever they feel like against the law.”

Supt Bennett said: "An investigation will be carried out to identify those involved and we're already collating footage of the incident."

Read more: Protests roll on against 'worldwide' racism

He said the “vast majority” of the 10,000 people who took part in the Black Lives Matter demonstration in Bristol “did so peacefully and respectfully”.

Black Lives Matter demonstrations were also carried out peacefully for much of Sunday afternoon in London, but there were a number of clashes with police on Whitehall, with bottles thrown at officers in one incident near the Cenotaph just before 9pm, while a statue to Sir Winston Churchill was scrawled with graffiti.

Boris Johnson said anti-racism demonstrations across the UK had been "subverted by thuggery".

The PM tweeted on Sunday evening: "People have a right to protest peacefully & while observing social distancing but they have no right to attack the police.

"These demonstrations have been subverted by thuggery – and they are a betrayal of the cause they purport to serve.

"Those responsible will be held to account."