Black Lives Matter organiser behind the protest which toppled Edward Colston's statue in Bristol admits fraud after £30,000 raised from donors goes missing
- Xahra Saleem, 23, pleaded guilty to one count of fraud by abuse of position
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.
Muslim Saleem - who changed her name from Yvonne Maina - is accused of using the 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.
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 an uproar.
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.
Edward Colston was born to a wealthy merchant family in Bristol, 1636.
After working as an apprentice at a livery company he began to explore the shipping industry and started up his own business.
He later joined the Royal African Company and rose up the ranks to Deputy Governor.
The Company had complete control of Britain's gold and Ivory business with Africa and the forts on the coast of west Africa.
Colston's brother Thomas supplied the glass beads that were used as currency at the time for trading purposes.
Colston became the Tory MP for Bristol in 1710 but stood only for one term, due to old age and ill health.
He used a lot of his wealth, accrued from his extensive trading, to build schools and almshouses in his home city.
A statue was erected in his honour as well as other buildings named after him, including Colston Hall.
On a statue commemorating Colston in Bristol, a plaque read: 'Erected by citizens of Bristol as a memorial of one of the most virtuous and wise sons of their city.'