MP comments on future of trial by jury after 'Colston four' verdict

Protesters throwing a statue of Edward Colston into Bristol harbour in 2020. Inset: Ipswich MP Tom Hunt

Protesters throwing a statue of Edward Colston into Bristol harbour during a Black Lives Matter protest rally in 2020. Inset: Ipswich MP Tom Hunt - Credit: PA/HOUSES OF PARLIAMENT

An Ipswich MP fears the verdict of the jury in the trial of four protestors accused of causing criminal damage to the Edward Colston statue in Bristol could "set a dangerous precedent".

After those accuse of toppling the Colston statue during a Black Lives Matter protest in 2020 were cleared, Tom Hunt, Ipswich MP, said: "There are legal and democratic processes available if you wish for a certain statue to be removed.

"It is totally wrong and it clearly amounts to criminal damage to take matters into your own hands and to remove any statue you see fit."

He believes the verdict could result in similar attacks on statues of people now considered controversial and added:  "I believe the verdict of the jury sets a dangerous precedent and could essentially lead to political activists ransacking statues up and down the country with impunity, regardless of what the majority think."

The 'Colston four'. Left to right Milo Ponsford, Sage Willoughby, Jake Skuse, and Rhian Graham

The 'Colston four'. Milo Ponsford, left, Sage Willoughby, second left, Jake Skuse , second right in mask, and Rhian Graham right, were cleared of criminal damage over the toppling of the statue of slave trader Edward Colston at Bristol Crown Court. - Credit: PA

Despite his view on the matter, Mr Hunt said he still believes juries have a place in modern justice and added: "There is clearly a specific issue here. It doesn't mean I want to abolish juries.

"If you commit criminal damage and break the law you should be punished. No ifs, no buts.

"I and colleagues will be discussing with ministers a way to ensure this sort of verdict never happens again."

Mr Hunt had spoken to the Daily Telegraph and said: "If you've broken the law and committed criminal damage you should be punished. If the jury is a barrier to ensuring they are punished then that needs to be addressed."

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Explaining the role of juries, Julie Gowland legal director in Birketts’ regulatory and dispute resolution team, said: "The function of the jury is to weigh up the evidence presented to them and to decide what the facts of the case are.

"The jury service system is considered important to democracy because of the unbiased, impartial viewpoints that can be derived from those selected to sit from a wide cross-section of society.

"Trial by jury helps the criminal justice system reflect the values and standards of the general public. It is largely considered vital for the criminal justice system that citizens participate in it and it is vital for democracy."

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