Alex Salmond effigy was blown up in Lewes

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Media captionAn effigy of Alex Salmond was blown up during bonfire celebrations in Lewes.

An effigy of Alex Salmond was blown up during bonfire celebrations in Lewes despite assurances that it would not be burned, it has emerged.

The effigy was one of two which were unveiled at the annual celebrations in the East Sussex town.

They were said by police to have been withdrawn after protests on social media.

But photographs have emerged which shows one of them being blown up in a firework display.

The effigy, which depicted the Scottish first minister wearing a kilt and sitting on a barrel of North Sea oil, can be seen in a grassy clearing on the edge of the town with a crowd of people watching.

Subsequent images show fireworks going off in the background, until just the burnt-out base of the effigy remained inside a thick cloud of smoke.

'Explosives inside'

The photographs were taken at about 22:30 on Wednesday by Michael Story, who told BBC Scotland that fireworks had been embedded in, and then set off from, the effigy.

He added: "As it was smouldering from the fireworks they blew up the head and the body, so they must have put explosives inside.

Image copyright @mwstory
Image caption Fireworks were placed inside the effigy and then set off
Image copyright @mwstory
Image caption Hundreds of people watched the effigy being destroyed
Image copyright @mwstory
Image caption One image showed the burnt-out base of the effigy in a cloud of smoke

"I would say there were about 500 or 600 people watching and there was some cheering."

Mr Story said he believed the fireworks had been organised by the Commercial Square Bonfire Society - one of six which organise separate parades and bonfires in the town every year.

A second effigy of Mr Salmond - which had the first minister wearing a "Yes" badge, holding a "45%" sign and with Nessie looking over his shoulder - was not burned. The Waterloo Bonfire Society, which created the effigy, confirmed that it was withdrawn from the event.

Twitter backlash

In a tweet sent at about 21:00 on Wednesday evening, Sussex Police said: "For those enquiring we have been advised that there won't be any burning of the Alex Salmond effigies this evening in Lewes."

Speaking after it emerged the effigy had been blown up, the force's Supt Laurence Taylor said: "We acknowledge that concerns have been raised and are trying to establish whether or not any crime may have been committed."

A spokeswoman for the force added: "Officers spoke to the bonfire societies on the night to make them aware of the concerns being raised about the effigies of the Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond.

"It was left up to the societies to make a decision about what they did with the effigies."

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The effigy had earlier been paraded through the street of Lewes
Image copyright East Sussex Council
Image caption A second effigy of Mr Salmond was also seen in the town but its creators had said they would not burn it

The row began on Wednesday afternoon when East Sussex County Council tweeted a picture of an effigy of Mr Salmond and the Loch Ness Monster.

They faced an immediate backlash on Twitter with one user responding: "Can you imagine the uproar amongst Better Together campaigners had Yes supporters burned an effigy of David Cameron?"

Others posted the council's switchboard telephone number, and urged people to complain.

The council later clarified: "Please note that the Alex Salmond and Nessie models were created by Waterloo Bonfire Society #LewesBonfire and have NO connection to ESCC". The original tweet was removed.

Mr Salmond responded to the initial tweet by telling BBC Scotland he was "used to insults from Tories in East Sussex".

He questioned the judgement of those behind the effigy.

The effigy of Mr Salmond and Nessie was created by the Waterloo Bonfire Society, which said on Wednesday that it had "no wish or intention to offend".

Waterloo Bonfire Society said it had a "tradition of creating satirical tableaux in caricature based on topical local, national and international events".

It said: "It is a tradition which has endured for many years and is intended to portray familiar stories and characters in a light hearted way. Clearly the Scottish referendum has been a big story in the news recently and Alex Salmond is a high profile figure.

"We are a traditional Sussex family bonfire society and have no political affiliations. We can assure that we have no wish or intention to offend and have never found ourselves in a position where we have done so in the past. To clarify we do not burn tableaux. They are incorporated into our firework display.

"In the light of the responses received to our tableau idea this year we have made the decision to withdraw it from our celebrations."

An effigy of David Cameron holding a "puppet Nick Clegg" was burned in Lewes in 2010. Other effigies in previous years have included Osama Bin Laden, George W Bush and Tony Blair.

The event is said to be one of the largest bonfire celebrations in the UK, with 45,000 people attending.

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