You may know that a few days ago a protest in Bristol, UK, ended up with people bringing down a statue of Colston, a slaveowner, and dumping the statue in the river.

Regardless of whether you agree with this context of the vandalism, the police have a duty to prosecute, but there is a petition (one of many) circulating that is asking that the police do not spend any time or resources prosecuting the culprits.

It currently has 35,000 signatures, and I was curious if anyone knows whether these things work?

Is there any precedent, or past cases, where the public has come together and successfully prevented a standard prosecution going forward?

Has public pressure ever interfered with justice systems, even in straightforward cases of vandalism, or a robbery, or I don't know...?

I live in the UK, so UK specific cases would be good, but am interested in anywhere really.

  • 7
    There is no duty to prosecute - it's possible to declare it not in the public interest to pursue the case. In any case it would be the CPS taking the decision, who are not part of the police.
    – pjc50
    Jun 10, 2020 at 21:19
  • 1
    state of Colston or statue of Colston? Not enough rep to edit one character.
    – CGCampbell
    Jun 10, 2020 at 21:30
  • 4
    "the police have a duty to prosecute" - In England and Wales the Crown Prosecution Service decides which cases should be prosecuted. They must be "satisfied that there is sufficient evidence to provide a realistic prospect of conviction, and that prosecuting is in the public interest." I don't think the police have a duty to investigate unless the complaint relates to a serious crime (e.g. rape).
    – Lag
    Jun 10, 2020 at 21:30
  • Edited to statue thanks. But are there cases where there is realistically sufficient evidence to convict, yet the public blocked any conviction going forward? Am really just interested in specific cases. Thank you so far though, already learning
    – harpomiel
    Jun 10, 2020 at 21:33

1 Answer 1


The police will (generally) only investigate a crime if there a chance of finding a culprit that would be convicted. Since 1986 in the UK the decision to prosecute has been in the hands of the Crown Prosecution Service.

The police will consult with the CPS early in an investigation in order to determine whether they are pursuing a worthwhile investigation. The CPS may decide that a crime should be investigated and prosecuted on several grounds, one of which is, "It is in the public interest."

Therefore we have a professional opinion of the CPS of whether a crime will be prosecuted to a guilty verdict by twelve good men and women and true. If they don't think a barrister could get a guilty verdict from a jury, they'll step in as early as that becomes apparent.

So, the police have to be convinced that it is in the public interest to pursue all of the people involved in removing an already controversial statue, when even the mayor of the city says that the removal of the statue is "no great loss." And even praised the police actions, "There were 10,000 people and no violent confrontation, no big smash-up of shop windows, no lines at accident and emergency."

As such, at the moment, it's likely that the police will hold any investigations in abeyance. But - there is no statute of limitations for criminal prosecution in the UK. So it may be that they are just waiting until the current situation dies down to initiate actions.

It's not like an actual human being was thrown in the harbour and it's not like any living humans will be harmed based on the evident motives of the protesters.

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