Top police officials say they stand by the decision not to stop protestors toppling the Edward Colston statue in Bristol.
Some 10,000 protestors gathered in the city last weekend to march against racism and the unlawful killing of African American George Floyd by a white police officer.
The event went without incident until a group with ropes, pulled down the statue of Bristolian Colston, who was a slave trader. They then dragged it to the docks and threw it in the harbour.
Protest organisers said it had nothing to do with them and police have launched an investigation into criminal damage.
Superintendent Andy Bennett said many did their best to socially distance during the march and it was peaceful on the whole.
But he added: “There was a small group who clearly committed an act of criminal damage. An investigation will be carried out to identify those involved.”
Chief Constable Andy Marsh said when the protestors climbed on to the statue it was spotted in the CCTV room and officers were deployed. But the decision was taken not to arrest anyone at the time.
He added: “To intervene and arrest suspects could lead to injuries to officers, suspects and others. I do not condone criminal damage but I fully support the actions of the officers.”
Bristol Police and Crime Commissioner Sue Mountstevens said she was pleased the majority of protestors were peaceful, with no injuries and no arrests. But she added the toppling of the Colston statue was disappointing.
She said: “While I understand both perspectives, I want to be clear I am in full support of the approach of Avon and Somerset Police and how the officers on duty handled the matter.
“Superintendent Bennett, and the command team in charge of policing the protest on the day, carefully considered all the implications of sending in officers at that moment to make arrests, probably requiring them to use force, and the escalation of tensions that could be caused as a result.”
Ms Mountstevens went on to say the legacy of Edward Colston in the city has been a controversial one that has divided opinion for years.
And she added: “While, of course, I do not support unlawful acts of criminal damage and I am disappointed that people have committed them during a peaceful protest, I fully understand why it has happened.”