The mayor of Bristol has said he “cannot pretend” to have “any real sense of loss” for the statue of slaver Edward Colston, which was toppled and dumped into the city’s harbour during an anti-racist demonstration on Sunday.
Marvin Rees, who is of Jamaican heritage, described the statue – which had stood in the city centre since 1895 – as “a personal affront”.
More than 11,000 people had recently signed a petition to have the statue pulled down, following numerous calls in the past to have it removed.
The directly-elected Labour mayor told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “As an elected politician, obviously I cannot condone the damage and I am very concerned about the implications of a mass gathering on the possibility of a second Covid wave.
“But I am of Jamaican heritage and I cannot pretend that I have any real sense of loss for the statue, and I cannot pretend it was anything other than a personal affront to me to have it in the middle of Bristol, the city in which I grew up.”
Rees went on to warn that it would take more than the removal of a controversial statue to tackle racism that was “stitched into the system”.
In the hours after it was torn down on Sunday, Avon and Somerset Police superintendent Andy Bennett announced that the force had launched an investigation to identify a small group of people “who clearly committed an act of criminal damage”.
This announcement has been reiterated by home secretary Priti Patel and MP Sajid Javid, who grew up in Bristol, and a row has since broken out about whether or not those who tore down the statue should face prosecution.
Asked whether he wanted to see those involved with removing the statue charged, Rees added: “That is up to the criminal justice system.
“I don’t really intervene in criminal matters like that – that’s not for me to go and be a cheerleader to the police in any criminal investigations.”
Meanwhile, on Monday morning justice minister Kit Malthouse told BBC Breakfast: “A crime was committed, criminal damage was committed, there should be evidence gathered and a prosecution should follow.”
He continued: “There is an elected mayor of Bristol, there is a council in Bristol and it is via those democratic means that we will resolve these issues in this country – not by people showing up with ropes and tools and committing criminal damage.
“We have to have a sense of order and democracy – that is how we sort things out and that is what should have happened.”