Three Weeks After The Fact, Police Apologetically Make One Statue Toppler Arrest

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Bristol City Council via Twitter

British police have, three weeks later, made a single arrest in connection with the destruction of a 125-year-old statue which was toppled, dragged through the streets and symbolically “drowned” while officers watched at the order of their regional force chief.

Edward Colston, a merchant and former parliamentarian who lived from 1636 to 1721, was for centuries considered something of a British Carnegie, endowing almshouses, hospital schools, and other charitable establishments in Bristol and across the wider country, and declining to marry on grounds that “every helpless widow is my wife and her distressed orphans my children”.

However, while he made much of his fortune through “an extensive wine and oil trade with Spain and Portugal” and was “probably the largest importer of Levantine fruits at Bristol”, he was for twelve years involved with the Royal African Company, which traded in gold, silver, ivory, and slaves.

In the present day, therefore, Colston — never a towering historical figure, despite many streets, buildings, and so on being named for him in his native Bristol — has been presented to the public as merely a “slave trader” despite the sad reality that slavery was considered legitimate business by the European powers and indeed by the African rulers who sold the Royal African Company their slaves at the time.

Long-standing agitation against his legacy and memorialisation in Bristol, while once largely a hobby-horse of left-liberal academics, came to a head with the emergence of widespread Black Lives Matter protests in the United Kingdom following the death of George Floyd in the United States, with a mob tearing down a public statue to the merchant erected in 1895, vandalising it, and finally dragging it through the streets and “drowning” it in the harbour, while police refused to intervene.

Following pressure from leading politicians from the governing Conservative party, however, the police did commence an investigation into the destruction of the statue, which was extensively recorded, and they have now arrested a single person on suspicion of criminal damage.

“The incident attracted worldwide attention and there’s no denying it has polarised public opinion – but in the eyes of the law a crime has been committed and we’re duty-bound to investigate this without fear or favour,” said Detective Superintendent Liz Hughes, somewhat apologetically.

“I’d like to reassure people we’re carrying out a thorough, fair and proportionate investigation and have sought early investigative advice from the Crown Prosecution Service,” she added.

Colston’s statue, which has now been retrieved from its watery grave, will not be reinstalled, but put in a museum — however, the conservators responsible for it will not restore it, but instead actively work to maintain it in its vandalised state, with particular attention being paid to preserving the graffiti daubed on it.

Despite Det Supt Hughes’s claim that the statue’s destruction “polarised public opinion”, polling shows two-thirds of people believe it is “unfair to make judgments about people in the past based on today’s values” and that “statues of people who were once celebrated should be allowed to stand”.

An even higher proportion of the public — 75 per cent — said police “need to protect statues from violent removal”, while separate polling people found that only 31 per cent of BAME (Black and Minority Ethnic) people, specifically, approved of the lawless way Colston’s statue was removed.

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