LONDON: Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has said a statue of slave trader Edward Colston in Bristol should have been taken down “a long, long time ago”. The bronze statue of the 17th century figure was pulled down with ropes, dragged through the streets and thrown into the harbour during a Black Lives Matter protest on Sunday.
Police have launched a criminal damage investigation into what happened to the statue, which has long been a source of controversy in the city where it has been situated since 1895.
Home Secretary Priti Patel described the incident as “utterly disgraceful”, while crime, policing and justice minister Kit Malthouse called for those responsible to be prosecuted.
Speaking on LBC, Sir Keir said it was “completely wrong” for the statue to be pulled down in that way. But he added: “You can’t, in 21st century Britain, have a slaver on a statue – a statue is there to honour people.
“That statue should have been brought down properly with consent and put, I would say, in a museum. This was a man who was responsible for 100,000 people being moved from Africa to the Caribbean as slaves, including women and children, who were branded on their chests with the name of the company that he ran.
“Of the 100,000, 20,000 died en route and they were chucked in the sea. He should not be on a statue in Bristol or anywhere else,” the Labour Leader added.
Avon and Somerset Police said they made a tactical decision not to intervene when the statue was toppled, dragged through the city and dumped in the water. BBC Bristol reported that 17 people have already been identified by police in relation to the incident.
No arrests were made but officers are now collating footage of people filmed taking part in the action.
Around 10,000 people took part in the protest on Sunday, which was praised by the force for being “peaceful and respectful”.
Marvin Rees, the elected Labour Mayor of Bristol, praised the police’s handling of the event as “intelligent and nuanced”. Mr Rees said he could not condone the damage and was also concerned about the implications of a mass gathering in terms of the coronavirus pandemic.