I’ve been catching up on the Saturday and Sunday papers (The Guardian and The Observer, for me.) I keep them and try to read as many of the opinion pieces over the next few weeks. That’s why my news concerns are always a little behind the times.
For example, while everybody else has moved on, I’m still troubled by the acquittal of the Bristol/ Colston four, despite being in complete sympathy with their moral position.
These activists felt so strongly about this issue that, after exhausting all other options, they were willing to take direct action that clearly broke the law. They seemed admirably principled and courageous because they seemed willing to bear the consequences of this unlawful act.
However, the Colston Four’s decision to opt for a jury trial (I believe it was their decision) rather than a magistrates’ court, while risky, appears to be an attempt to avoid those consequences. Various commentators have pointed out that the magistrates would undoubtedly have found that they had broken the law. It would only have resulted in a fine, but would involve an admission of guilt. A jury trial could have landed them in prison, but it also gave them the chance of acquittal.
The Criminal Damage Act, 1971 defines the offence thus: “A person who without lawful excuse destroys or damages any property belonging to another, intending to destroy or damage any such property, or being reckless as to whether any such property would be destroyed or damaged, shall be guilty of an offence.” (cps.gov.uk)
I guess the defendants claimed they had a “lawful excuse”, though I don’t know what part of law that would be: “I didn’t like it” doesn’t sound like a solid legal defence, no matter how understandable. The defence claimed that the council’s refusal to remove Colston’s statue was, itself, a hate crime, but this sounds disingenuous, not least because, surely, being the victim of crime doesn’t justify perpetrating another, different crime.
I guess the defendants claimed that their actions were defending Bristol’s people from offense… It’s a pity, though that such a caring gesture should look so like an act of alarming, unilateral mob violence…