The prime minister said people “should not go around looking retrospectively to change our history” after a statue of slave trader Edward Colston in Bristol was torn down by four men.
Ryan Graham, 30, Milo Ponsford, 26, Sage Willoughby, 22, and Jake Skuse, 33, are on trial for pulling down a statue during a Black Lives Matter protest on June 7, 2020, while a large crowd was present. He was acquitted by a jury at Bristol Crown Court on Wednesday.
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.
It’s like someone is trying to edit their Wikipedia entry – it’s wrong
The verdict prompted a debate about the jury system after defendants – called the Colston Four – opted to prosecute and did not rule out involvement in the incident, instead claiming the statue’s presence was a hate crime. And so it was not a crime, remove it.
But prosecutors said it was “irrelevant” to who Colston was and that the case was outright criminal damage.
Asked about the decision, Boris Johnson told broadcasters at a vaccination center in Moulton Park, Northampton: “I don’t want to comment on that particular decision – it’s a court matter.
“But what I would say is that my feeling is that there is a complex historical heritage all around us, and that reflects our history in all its diversity, for good or for bad.
“What you can’t do is try to look retrospectively to change our history or bend it or edit it in retrospect.
“It’s like someone is trying to edit their Wikipedia entry – it’s wrong.
“And I think if people want to democratically remove a statue or whatever, that’s fine. But I think, in general, we should preserve our cultural, artistic, historical heritage — that’s mine. Thoughts.”
Former Justice Secretary Robert Buckland defended the jury system, despite describing the verdict in the Colston case as “perverted”.
The Tory MP told BBC Radio 4’s World at One programme: “Sometimes we will get jury decisions that probably fly in the face of the law and sometimes the evidence, that is the price we pay for the admirable system, system of jury trials that I and many others strongly believe in.”
The decision does not set a precedent. It was a case decided by a jury on the facts before him
During the hearing, Judge Peter Blair QC told jurors that they should decide the case based on the evidence they heard, after expressing concerns in their absence that they would be undue pressure by excessive rhetoric from defense barristers. Had been. He also warned several supporters of the defendants about their behavior in court.
A petition calling for reconsideration, claiming the acquittal to be a “dangerous precedent that threatens all our national heritage”, has attracted more than 5,000 signatures so far.
But others dismissed claims that the verdict sets a legal precedent that could lead to defacement of other public monuments.
Describing the jury system as one of the UK’s “greatest monuments”, the leader of the Commons, Jacob Rees-Mogg, said: “The decision does not set a precedent. It was a matter decided by a jury on the facts before them.”
Human rights barrister Adam Wagner said on Twitter: “Anyone with future property damage will have no way of knowing whether a jury will convict or acquit them. The law is as it was.”
Earlier, Downing Street said it respected individual jury decisions, adding that vandalism “remains a crime” and “we expect the police to take all crimes seriously”.
It comes as the government plans to change the law to “ensure that those found guilty of desecrating or damaging a monument face a punishment that is higher than those found for these actions.” better reflects the emotional and emotional impact”.
Criminal damages may attract a sentence of imprisonment of up to 10 years, but this term is limited by the value of the damage.
Where the damage is less than £5,000, the maximum punishment is three months in prison and a fine of up to £2,500.
But the Police, Crime, Punishment and Courts Bill – which is currently being examined by parliament – would allow courts to consider “emotional or widespread distress” caused by damage to public property, and increase the maximum sentence to 10 years. Will give cost incurred.
This would extend to flowers or wreaths placed on monuments, such as on a gravestone or cenotaph.