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BBC defends decision not to remove defaced statue by Eric Gill

Gill was among the most prominent sculptors of the 20th century but is said to have sexually abused two of his daughters.

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A man after he climbed onto a statue outside the BBC’s headquarters in central London (Ian West/PA)

A man after he climbed onto a statue outside the BBC’s headquarters in central London (Ian West/PA)

A man after he climbed onto a statue outside the BBC’s headquarters in central London (Ian West/PA)

The BBC has said there are no plans to take down a statue outside its central London headquarters after it was defaced with a hammer.

The depiction of Prospero and Ariel by sculptor Eric Gill, who is said to have sexually abused two of his daughters, has been on display at Broadcasting House since 1933, and the corporation defended its decision not to remove or replace the work.

A man was arrested on suspicion of criminal damage on Wednesday after emergency services were called to the scene at 4.15pm amid reports of a man damaging a statue on a ledge, Scotland Yard said.

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The figures depicting Prospero and Ariel from Shakespeare’s play The Tempest (Ian West/PA)

The figures depicting Prospero and Ariel from Shakespeare’s play The Tempest (Ian West/PA)

The figures depicting Prospero and Ariel from Shakespeare’s play The Tempest (Ian West/PA)

A statement from the BBC said: “The statue at the front of old Broadcasting House is a representation of Prospero and Ariel from Shakespeare’s The Tempest. Prospero is shown sending Ariel out into the world.

“When the statue was commissioned, Ariel – as the spirit of the air – was seen as an appropriate symbol for the new dawn of broadcasting.

“The BBC doesn’t condone the views or actions of Eric Gill. Clearly there are debates about whether you can separate the work of an artist from the art itself.

“We think the right thing to do is for people to have those discussions. We don’t think the right approach is to damage the artwork itself.”

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The BBC’s headquarters are located in central London (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

The BBC’s headquarters are located in central London (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

The BBC’s headquarters are located in central London (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

Gill was among the most prominent sculptors of the 20th century until his death in 1940 but his diaries, published much later, detailed the sexual abuse of his daughters.

A biography on the Tate museum website said: “His religious views and subject matter contrast with his sexual behaviour, including his erotic art, and (as mentioned in his own diaries) his extramarital affairs and sexual abuse of his daughters, sisters and dog.”

Nearly 2,500 people have previously signed a petition demanding the removal of the sculpture on the website of political activist group 38 Degrees.

The incident came a week after a jury cleared four people of criminal damage after they pulled down the statue of slave trader Edward Colston.

The bronze memorial to the 17th century figure was pulled down during a Black Lives Matter protest in Bristol on June 7 2020, before being rolled into the water, and those responsible were acquitted on January 5 following an 11-day trial.

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