Britain is not a country where “destroying public property can ever be acceptable”, a government minister has said after approving four men for vandalizing a statue of slave trader Edward Colston.
That Transportation Secretary Grant Shapps claimed that the new powers framed in the Police, Crime, Punishment and Courts Bill would close a “potential loophole” limiting the prosecution of people who damage monuments.
Only four people – Ryan Graham, 30, Milo Ponsford, 26, and Sage Willoughby, 22, and Jake Skuse, 33 – were on trial for pulling down a statue during a Black Lives Matter protest on 7 June 2020, while A huge crowd was present.
A further six were given “convincing justice” results, in which they had to pay a £100 fine, do unpaid work and fill out a questionnaire about their actions.
Speaking to BBC Breakfast, Mr Shapps said: “We have a clause in the Police, Crime and Punishment Bill that would probably close a potential loophole and mean you can’t just go round and shove vandalism.” can’t cause, destroy the public realm, and then essentially shouldn’t be prosecuted.”
Under current law, criminal damages can be punished with imprisonment of up to 10 years, but the maximum punishment is limited by the value of the damages.
Where the damage is less than £5,000, the maximum punishment is three months’ imprisonment and a fine of up to £2,500.
But the new bill, which is currently being examined by parliament, would allow courts to consider “emotional or widespread distress” causing damage to public property, and increase the maximum sentence to 10 years, regardless of cost. .
This would extend to flowers or wreaths placed on monuments, such as a gravestone or the cenotaph.
Discussing the jury’s decision at Bristol Crown Court on Wednesday, Mr Shapps said: “I don’t want to be seen commenting on an individual case, had a jury, they decided, they would have looked at all the facts.
“But as a broad point, I would say that we are not in a country where destroying public property can ever be acceptable.”
He said: “We live in a democratic country. If you want to see things change you can change them, you can do so through the ballot box, or by petitioning your local council, etc. You don’t do this by going out and causing criminal damage.
“We will always be on the side of the law and, when necessary, we will correct any deficiencies in the law to ensure that this is always the case.”
Defendant Ryan Graham denies that Colston’s demolition caused people to demolish the statues.
Speaking to Good Morning Britain, she said: “I completely understand people’s concerns and I don’t think it’s a green light for everyone to start taking down statues.
“This moment is about this statue in this city in this moment.
“I will leave the fate of the monuments of other cities to the citizens of those cities.”
Elsewhere TV historian and writer David Olusoga, who provided expert evidence for the defense during the trial, said the verdict reflected the “culture war” surrounding when the jury was trying the case for evidence.
Speaking to Good Morning Britain, he said: “When (juries) receive that information directly through tabloids or journalists or politicians, they are actually reacting to the evidence, not the evidence built around it.” Gone is the Culture War drum beat instead.
“Most people don’t understand the details of this history, the details of this statue, and the long campaign to remove it peacefully.”
He continued: “That statue standing there for 125 years was validating the career of a mass murderer.
“And to those whose ancestors were enslaved by Colston and men like him, it is disgraceful, and you can speak to thousands of people in Bristol who found it offensive.”