The toppling of the slave trader statue in Bristol has been labelled an “iconic moment” by the city's mayor.
However, the Labour mayor said he could not condone criminal damage.
It comes after the Home Secretary Priti Patel called the act "utterly disgraceful" and called for a full investigation. Also this morning the Policing Minister Kit Malthouse doubled down, saying: "I hope prosecutions will follow."
Mr Rees said it was an “iconic moment” that has drawn attention from people across the planet but added: “My concern though is that racism is tackled not just by pulling down statues in symbolic moments – it’s stitched into the system. It’s the systematic exclusion of people from opportunity and power.”
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I am of Jamaican heritage and I cannot pretend any real sense of loss for the statue. I cannot pretend it was anything other than a personal affront to me to have it in the middle of Bristol – the city in which I grew up.”
Asked if anyone should be charged with criminal damage, he said: “That’s up to the criminal justice system.”
He said people had been asking for the statue to be removed for a long time, adding: “It’s something I would have liked to have seen.
“If I just pitch up and start tearing down all memorials to slavery there would be another debate and I would be on the receiving end. I don’t have the latitude to operate like that that other people would.”
Crime and policing minister Kit Malthouse was asked on Sky News why the statue was still up.
Mr Malthouse replied: “Well obviously that’s a question for the people and Mayor of Bristol.
“The way we do things in the country is by democratic process not by mob rule.
“Undoubtedly in what was done to that statue a crime was committed. An investigation should be underway and I hope prosecutions will follow.
“We can’t have decisions by mob, we can’t have criminal damage, there has to be a democratic decision taken as to whether something like a statue stays up or not. That’s the right way to do things in this country.”
Avon and Somerset Police has launched a probe to identify "a small group of people who clearly committed an act of criminal damage".