After the Colston Four were cleared, the minister warned that the new law would be harsher on vandals.

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After the Colston Four were cleared, the Minister warned that a new law would be tougher on vandals.

PROTESTORS have been warned that a new law will make vandalism carry longer sentences.

It comes after four people were acquitted of criminal damage in 2020 for destroying a statue of slave trader Edward Colston in Bristol.

After being urged to “be on the right side of history,” the jury acquitted Rhian Graham, 30, Milo Ponsford, 26, Sage Willoughby, 22, and Jake Skuse, 33.

New powers in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, according to Transport Secretary Grant Shapps, will strengthen penalties for those who damage memorials.

“It may close a potential loophole, meaning you can’t just go around causing vandalism, destroying the public realm, and essentially not be prosecuted,” he said.

“I would argue that we do not live in a country where destroying public property is ever justified.”

Criminal damage can currently result in a prison sentence of up to ten years, but this is limited by the value of the damage.

The maximum penalty is three months in prison and a £2,500 fine if the amount is less than £5,000.

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However, the new Bill, which is currently being debated in Parliament, would allow courts to consider the “emotional or wider distress” caused by public property damage.

It increases the maximum sentence from five to ten years, regardless of the cost.

Flowers or wreaths at memorials, such as on a gravestone or at the Cenotaph, would be included.

While the Colston verdict was unusual, human rights lawyer Adam Wagner said it did not set a precedent because it was a jury decision.

“Anyone damaging property in the future would have no way of knowing whether a jury would convict or acquit them,” he continued.

“Criminalizing protests you don’t agree with, as the Policing Bill proposes, will have the opposite effect…more improbable acquittals,” he cautioned.

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