England

Sir Robert Peel statue removal calls 'targeting wrong man'

Statue of Sir Robert Peel in Woodhouse Moor, Hyde Park in Leeds Image copyright Stephen Craven/Geograph
Image caption The statue of Sir Robert Peel in Leeds stands in Woodhouse Moor in Hyde Park

Anti-racism campaigners calling for the removal of statues of a former British prime minister have been accused of targeting the wrong man.

There are several statues of Sir Robert Peel, who founded the modern police.

But city leaders said people appeared to be confusing him with his father, of the same name, who opposed the abolition of slavery.

Despite acknowledging the mistaken identity, campaigners are still calling for the Leeds statue to go.

Statues of the 18th Century prime minister - located in Leeds, Bury, Manchester, Preston and Glasgow - have been included on a list of possible targets following the toppling of the monument to Edward Colston in Bristol.

Sir Robert's father had been a vocal opponent of the abolition of slavery because it threatened his fortune in the cotton trade.

Responding to call for the Leeds statue to be taken down, council leader Judith Blake said: "There seems to be now a recognition that there has been some misunderstanding about the Robert Peel whose statue is in Leeds and that it was actually his father who worked in the cotton trade. "

Image copyright David Dixon/Geograph
Image caption A separate petition has been started to save the Sir Robert Peel statue in Manchester

She said the reaction in the North West, where Sir Robert was born, had been that he was a "reformer and did do many things that have had a lasting impression and impact, not least establishing a police force that doesn't carry arms."

Manchester mayor Andy Burnham said there was a "feeling there is a misunderstanding here which is that his father had links to the slave trade rather than Peel himself".

More than 1,000 people have signed the petition to remove the Leeds statue.

Although organisers recognised they had initially referred to the wrong person, they said they wanted it removed because "we should not celebrate colonisers".

The petition states: "With the legitimacy of current policing in question, the history of policing, its origins in colonialism and its role in suppressing dissent deserves greater scrutiny.

"Peel's statue belongs in a museum, as part of an exhibition for others to learn about the history of British colonialism."

Meanwhile, a separate petition has been started to save Sir Robert's statue in Piccadilly Garden, citing the fact that he introduced laws which banned the employment of women and children in underground mines.

Leeds City Council has said all statues of historic figures would be subject to a city-wide review

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