Black Lives Matter Organiser Behind the Protest Which Toppled Edward Colston’s Statue in Bristol Admits Fraud
Claire Duffin, Daily Mail, September 25, 2023
One of the organisers of the Black Lives Matter protest which saw slave trader Edward Colston’s statue toppled has admitted fraud after £30,000 raised from donors went missing.
Xahra Saleem, 23, pleaded guilty to one count of fraud by abuse of position following an investigation by Avon and Somerset Police into a GoFundMe page called ‘BristBLM’ set up ahead of the protest in Bristol in June 2020.
Saleem had set up the crowdfunding page to raise money for face masks and other equipment to help facilitate the march legally, given it was taking place at the time of the Covid-19 pandemic.
An agreement is said to have been made that any excess funds would go to charity Changing Your Mindset Ltd – which was a youth group based in the St Pauls area of Bristol – so young people could go on a trip to Africa.
The Colston statue was pushed into Bristol harbour on June 7, 2020, during protests related to the death of George Floyd in the US, and the subsequent global BLM movement.
Following the protest, which gained world-wide attention, the page raised tens of thousands of pounds, however none of the money is alleged to have arrived with the charity.
Saleem – who changed her name from Yvonne Maina – is accused of using money raised for herself.
She initially entered not guilty pleas to two charges of fraud. The second charge related to a separate online fundraising page set up in the days following the toppling of the statue of Edward Colston in June 2020, called ‘Bristol Protesters Legal Fees’.
A trial was listed for December – but Saleem appeared at Bristol Crown Court last week to change her plea to guilty for the first charge. The second charge was discontinued by the Crown Prosecution Service, it emerged today.
Saleem, of Romford, Essex, will return to the same court to be sentenced at the end of October.
Rhian Graham, Milo Ponsford, Jake Skuse and Sage Willoughby, who became known as the Colston Four in a case that attracted wide attention, were later cleared of criminal damage connected to the incident involving the statue.
Changing Your Mindset has since closed down.
A spokesperson for the group told Bristol Live that the group was still working to retrieve the money, but it appeared unlikely.
‘It is devastating that some of our young people are no longer with us to see the justice that the team at Changing Your Mindset lost sleep and worked hard to get,’ she said.
‘Often, we were wrongfully judged as thieves, by people expected to support us. The theft and overall lack of support hindered the staff and the young people in accessing the services delivered to them, eventually resulting in Changing Your Mindset sadly closing a year later.
‘We are now taking some time to process the information we have now received that the perpetrator will finally be held accountable.’
Last year, four protesters who took part in the toppling of Colston’s statue – Rhian Graham, Milo Ponsford, Sage Willoughby and Jake Skuse – were cleared, sparking uproar in some quarters.
Campaigners said the move gave the ‘green light to political vandalism’.
The Colston statue was toppled in June 2020 amid a wave of protests in the UK, the US and elsewhere.
Left-wing protesters drew up a list of statues of historical figures to target, including Oliver Cromwell, King Charles II and First World War hero Lord Kitchener.
The statue of Winston Churchill outside Parliament was also daubed with graffiti branding the former PM a racist, leading to it being covered up to prevent further damage.
Since the toppling of Colston’s statue, which was later displayed on its side in M Shed Museum in Bristol, the name of the slave trader has been purged from the city.