A BARRISTER who successfully defended one of the Colston Four has questioned the role the Home Secretary played in the prosecution.
Raj Chada alleged Priti Patel held meetings with Avon and Somerset Police about the Colston case and said it was “not right” she had been involved.
In the aftermath of the Black Lives Matter protests two years ago, the Cabinet minister described the incident as “utterly disgraceful”.
She is also reported to have had a “firm” discussion with the then chief constable of Avon and Somerset Police Andy Marsh.
Rhian Graham, 30, Milo Ponsford, 26, Sage Willoughby, 22, and Jake Skuse, 33, all admitted taking part in the toppling of the 17th century slave trader but were acquitted of criminal damage by a jury at Bristol Crown Court.
It became a defining moment of the wave of protests seen around the world in the wake of the murder of George Floyd by a police officer in the US.
Speaking afterwards, Mr Chada said: “The prosecution was not in the public interest in any shape or form.
“I’m quite amazed that the Crown Prosecution Service rejected our representations and decided to prosecute this case.
“For the Crown Prosecution Service to launch that sort of investigation, that sort of prosecution and it’s not in the public interest.
“There was always a chance the result would end in the acquittals and again I think questions need to be asked how public interest was arrived at.
“What influence did the Government play in this? What influence did Priti Patel play? We know she had meetings with Avon and Somerset Police about this case.
“It is not right that a Home Secretary should be involved in ongoing cases and these cases should be dealt with at a local level according to the interests of justice.”
A spokesman for the Home Secretary said: “The Government does not have a role in prosecutions.
“Ministers are able to say the police should uphold the law.
“The Home Secretary is also able to have meetings with the police about high-profile incidents which are of national prominence.”
Mr Willoughby celebrated the verdicts by taking the knee outside Bristol Crown Court.
Ms Patel has previously described taking the knee – a symbol of supporting racial inequality – as “gesture politics”.
Speaking last year, she claimed the Black Lives Matter protests had a “devastating” impact on policing as she criticised the toppling of the Colston statue.
“It’s all well to support a cause and make your voices heard,” she told broadcaster GB News.
“I just don’t subscribe to this view that we should be rewriting our history, pulling down statues, the famous Colston statue, and what’s happened there.”
Mr Chada, who represented Mr Skuse, said the jury’s verdicts did not mean people could take the law into their own hands.
“This isn’t a case that creates a legal precedent – it turns very much on its own facts and we stressed that throughout the course of the trial,” he said.
“This was not about all statues; this was about the Colston statue in Bristol and the shameful failure to rectify what was happening in Bristol.
“I would hope the courts will take into account that juries should be getting the full information that direct action can be justified and juries should be allowed to come to these decisions.”
Lawyers for the defendants argued that ‘prevention of crime’ could be relied upon as a defence and that the jury could consider whether the presence of the statue itself constituted an offence under the Public Order Act.
Describing the strategy, Mr Chada said: “It was very much about the righteousness of the course and that these four individuals have done the right thing.
“The people who have done the wrong thing were the council in keeping this statue up for over 100 years and marking it.
“We sort of say it in court that they were the ones that should have been on trial, not these four individuals.
“They had a number of defences, but broadly they have a lawful excuse as to why they committed the acts that they did.
“Those valid excuses included their right to free speech, their right to conscience, and that a conviction would be disproportionate interference with those rights.
“And that they were preventing a crime – it was a criminal offence to keep that statue up because it was so offensive. It is really beyond belief it was up for so long.”