Take vandalism seriously, police warned by Downing Street after ‘Colston four’ acquittal

Police officers are still expected to take statue vandalism seriously, despite the acquittal of four people who destroyed a statue of Edward Colston, Downing Street has said.

Senior Conservative MPs have criticised Wednesday’s judgment at Bristol Crown Court, which ruled that while the defendants had tipped the statue into the city’s harbour, they were not guilty of criminal damage.

The “Colston Four” argued that the presence of the statue was a hate crime against the city’s residents, and that it was effectively theirs to destroy because they lived there.

Boris Johnson’s spokesman said on Thursday that No 10 would “rightly never comment” on an individual court case but expects “the police to take all crimes seriously, including vandalism or criminal damage to public property” in the wake of the verdict.

Grant Shapps, the Transport Secretary, said it amounted to “mob rule” and that upcoming legislation would “plug a gap” on the vandalisation of statues.

"We must live in a society where people can’t go around destroying public property and be able to walk away from it,” he said.

"We are introducing via the police crime sentencing bill, new measures which would potentially plug a gap and make it absolutely clear."

‘Unacceptable’ form of political protest

Robert Jenrick, the former communities secretary, warned the jury’s verdict could affect future statue vandalism cases.

"We undermine the rule of law, which underpins our democracy, if we accept vandalism and criminal damage are acceptable forms of political protest,” he said.

“They aren’t. Regardless of the intentions."

The 'Colston Four' argued that the presence of the statue was a hate crime against the Bristol's residents

Credit: Ben Birchall
/PA

In an apparent rebuke of his colleagues, Jacob Rees-Mogg suggested the decision should not be challenged by politicians because “one of our greatest monuments is the jury system”.

The Leader of the Commons was asked about the judgment by Philip Hollobone, a Tory backbencher, who warned “monuments that some people don’t like…are now at greater risk of defacement, destruction or removal”.

Mr Rees-Mogg replied that he would not “be going out of here immediately afterwards and drawing a moustache on the statue of Oliver Cromwell outside, much though I’m opposed to regicides in principle and think that they deserve to be removed from pedestals”.

“Our island story is a complex one, and there are varieties in all people of their good intentions and their less pure intentions,” he added.

Silence from Culture Secretary on verdict

Nadine Dorries, the Culture Secretary, did not mention the verdict in a Commons appearance, despite her previous condemnation of Left-wing protesters who damage monuments.

Ms Dorries has previously attacked “snowflakes” for “tearing down historic statues…and suppressing free speech,” but was silent on the issue when questioned by MPs on Thursday morning.

Nadine Dorries, the Culture Secretary, has previously attacked 'snowflakes' for tearing down historic statues

Credit: PAUL GROVER

Downing Street said Boris Johnson’s “broader view on removing statutes” was that “it’s always legitimate to examine and challenge Britain’s history, but we should retain and explain our heritage so more people can understand our nation’s past to its fullest”.

“We expect police to take all crimes seriously, and you will know that we are changing the law to ensure those found guilty of desecrating or damaging a memorial face a punishment that better reflects the higher sentimental and emotional impact these actions can have,” a spokesman added.

The comments came after sources close to Oliver Dowden, the Conservative Party chairman, told The Telegraph he “thinks that people who commit criminal damage should be held to account regardless of the circumstances”.

Tom Hunt, another Tory MP, appeared to suggest jury trials should be abandoned in statue vandalism cases.

“If the jury is a barrier to ensuring they are punished then that needs to be addressed,” he said.

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