No prosecutions here please

Here in Bristol there has been widespread support for the consignment of Edward Colston’s statue to the bottom of the harbour.  It was a vile relic of slavery and evidence of how far the city has yet to go in tackling the more shameful part of its history.

Keir Starmer says this treatment of the statue was “completely wrong”, a statement which has not resonated well locally.  He would have been on firmer ground joining Bristol’s mayor Marvin Rees, who merely said that as a democratically elected politician he could not support breaking the law.  What Marvin went on to add was that that keeping a statue in Bristol to commemorate a man who may have enslaved one of Marvin’s ancestors was an “affront” to him personally, a sentiment presumably understood by every decent human being.  However, attempts by our democratically elected politicians to remove it have been stymied in the past, most notably by the Society of Merchant Venturers (which made its original fortune from slavery).

With the sinking of the statue, the penny also seems suddenly to have dropped.  Colston Hall has hastened to repeat its earlier promise to change its name in the course of its current refurbishment.  Colston Girls School has already removed their pint sized replica of the statue, and the residents of Colston Road are calling for their street to be renamed.  Even the Merchant Venturers have spoken, though only to say they are continuing to educate themselves about systemic racism.

However, our Prime Minister and Home Secretary are now calling for prosecution of those who sent Colston to the murky depths and the police have just identified 17 suspects.

A short retort to this should come from our Police and Crime Commissioner, Sue Mountstevens.  She needs to tell the police that there is no public interest in prosecuting anyone for removing this gross affront.  And Bristol City Council, presumably the owners of the statue, should tell the police firmly that they will not support a prosecution, and should decline to make any statement in support of it.  The Society of Merchant Venturers might like to chip in with its support as well.

Memo to Keir Starmer: Criminalising members of the public in these circumstances is ‘completely wrong’.