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"Racially Motivated" Defacing of Duleep Singh Statue

By ISABEL COCKAYNE, Mar. 12, 2005

Photo: Vandalised statue of Duleep Singh, Thetford, Norfolk, U.K.

A town mayor tonight labelled vandals who 'desecrated' a statue of the last ruler of the Sikh nation as 'despicable' and 'evil.'

Police are treating the defacing of the towering memorial of Thetford's 19th century Sikh benefactor, the Maharajah Duleep Singh, as racially motivated.

Townspeople were today horrified to find that white paint had been poured all over the £50,000 bronze statue standing on Butten Island, near the centre of town.

Swastikas and N.F., thought to stand for the National Front Party, were also scrawled over the imposing figure of Duleep Singh riding a horse.

It is likely to cost thousands to restore the statue, which is an important tourist attraction forming part of the only U.K.-wide Sikh heritage trail, bringing more visitors into the town.

Town mayor Ray Key declared himself 'livid' and said the vandals who had 'desecrated' the statue should be imprisoned.

Police are carrying out forensic tests on the cans left behind on the statue, checking C.C.T.V. and want to speak to anybody who may have evidence.

Insp. Tim Peacock, of Thetford Police, said the attack was 'of a racial nature' and said the offenders would be prosecuted 'to the full extent of the law' if caught.

Since it was gifted to the town in 1999, the statue has remained virtually unmarked, said Mr. Key.

'I am absolutely livid about this. I can't put it into words. They should be put in prison. They are sick. I cannot find the words for people who act like this.

'It means a lot to the Sikh nation and we're very privileged to have it in our town. It's been a lovely feature in a beautiful area. It has been desecrated.'

He said Duleep Singh, who was the last Prince of the Punjab who lived in nearby Elveden Hall, had given much to the town, for which its people ought to be grateful.

'We were so pleased and proud to have this statue in this town. I am ashamed. It is a slur on the town.'

Mr. Key said town council workers had already cleaned the worst of the graffiti off, but that they could not remove the oil-based paint without permission from the owners, the Maharajah Duleep Singh Centenary Trust.

Insp. Peacock agreed that the statue means a lot to the Sikh community.

'We're keen on speaking to anybody who has got any evidence. It is of a racial nature and offenders will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law, if we can get the evidence to do so.'

He said pictures had been taken of the graffiti before it had been removed and officers had removed the paint cans.

The monument stands as a memorial to the prince 100 years after his death.

A spokesman for the centenary trust has called it a 'recognition of the prince's historical links with East Anglia and on a wider scale that between the Sikhs and the British nation.'

The last native ruler of the Punjab, Duleep Singh transferred his rights to the English in exchange for a pension and travelled to Suffolk, where in 1863 he bought the Elveden estate. He is buried in the village churchyard. Duleep Singh's son, Frederick, gave the Ancient House in Thetford to the town for use as a museum.