Wales

Michael Sheen's anger over mural demolition

A digger close to the mural
Image caption The council demolished the mural to make way for a new shopping centre

Hollywood actor Michael Sheen has strongly criticised Newport council which "destroyed" a mural celebrating the 1839 Chartist uprising.

The star, who was born in Newport, has written a letter to the South Wales Argus to say: "The political system has let us down."

The 35m (115ft) mosaic was demolished this month to make way for a £100m shopping centre, prompting protests.

The council said it did not have the money to move or preserve the mural.

The diggers moved in to tear down the artwork in a subway off John Frost Square on 3 October, a fortnight after Welsh heritage body Cadw declined to list the mosaic.

Image caption Michael Sheen has urged the community to come together to help replace the mosaic

The council's chief executive Will Godfrey later apologised for not giving councillors advance warning that the mural would be demolished.

As workmen chipped away at the mosaic, which was created in 1978, protesters staged an impromptu demonstration.

It was followed by a demonstration of about 200 people the following day who were angry at the council's actions.

Sheen, star of films including Frost/Nixon, The Queen and the Twilight series, has now written an open letter to the South Wales Argus.

In it, he urges people to "stand up for certain values and freedoms and ideals when they come under attack, whether through greed, malice, ignorance or sheer stupidity".

He said he felt compelled to write for a number of reasons.

"Firstly, the vicious irony of something that was created to celebrate those who risked much for the good of all, being wiped out without consulting the people themselves, and under the auspices of a Labour led city council serving the needs of profit above all else, is both absurd as well as tragic," he said.

Image caption The demolished mural depicted a fatal confrontation between democracy protesters and troops at Newport's Westgate Hotel in 1839

"That so little was done, or was able to be done, by us, in order to stop this from happening, brings shame to us all."

He also urged action to ensure the Chartist movement was not forgotten in the city, urging the community to come together with ideas to replace the mural.

"Having done something similar when working on The Passion [a three-day open air play with the community in Port Talbot] a few years ago, I was amazed and inspired by the vision, commitment and resourcefulness of the design students I worked with," he added.

Image caption Around 200 protesters join a demonstration against the council's mural decision

"Looking for found materials to work with, along with as much of the original destroyed mural as can be salvaged, could connect the past with the present in a grounded and economical way perhaps."

He concluded: "I hope we can make the Chartists proud."

Sheen was born in Newport and his family lived in Llanmartin in the county for 12 years before moving to Port Talbot when the actor was five.

His father Meyrick Sheen, whose brother still lives in Newport, said he was not surprised his son had gotten involved.

He told BBC Wales that Sheen had previously opened a Chartists' exhibition in the city's museum.

The council has said it is looking at options to replace the mural, which depicted a fatal confrontation between democracy protesters and troops at Newport's Westgate Hotel in 1839

In his letter earlier this month, Mr Godfrey said he had attempted to contact local media to alert them about the demolition.

"The process was not underhand or undemocratic as has been suggested in some parts of the media," he said.

He went on: "Officers have advised the appropriate cabinet member that consultation should commence as soon as possible.

'Difficult decisions'

"It is suggested that one of the options should be to commission a replica of the original mural."

In response to the Hollywood star's letter, Newport council said it did not have the money to move or preserve the mural.

"The mural's future has been on public record since March 2012, when a planning decision and separate public consultation confirmed that the mural would have to be demolished and the preferred option as a result of the consultation was for it to be reproduced on tiles," said a spokesperson.

"More recently, as Cadw did not list the mural and Newport City Council did not have £625,000 to remove and preserve it, we understand that these decisions have been difficult for Newport residents both near and far.

"The council found Mr Sheen's letter very interesting. It is forward thinking and contains some practical suggestions which the council will consider.

"We also echo Mr Sheen's call to 'focus on how we can celebrate the past, connect it to the present and look hopefully to the future.'

"We are currently asking all members of the public to give us their views on a new commemoration of the Chartists, details of which are on the council's website."

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