A protester has been brought to safety after he was spotted at height using a hammer to attack a controversial statue created by known paedophile Eric Gill on the outside of the BBC’s Broadcasting House in central London.
The statute – Prospero and Ariel – was made by artist Eric Gill and campaigners have long asked for it to be removed since it was revealed decades after his death that Gill sexually abused his two eldest daughters.
His 1933 statue, which is inspired by Shakespeare’s play The Tempest, occupies a prominent position at the entrance to the BBC’s Broadcasting House in Portland Place, London and is an integral part of the Grade II listed building.
Photos showed the protester, wearing a Reservoir Dogs t-shirt, hammering away at the statue, removing large parts of stone from it while police say they continue to try and engage with him.
Met Police officers and the London Fire Brigade used an elevated platform to bring the man to safety after more than four hours. Once on the ground, pictures show that he was detained by police.
The incident comes a week after a jury cleared four people of criminal damage despite the fact they did not deny pulling down the statue of slave trader Edward Colston in Bristol.
The verdict sparked debate over the criminality and ethics of vandalising statues that are deemed controversial.
Police look on as an activist attempts to damage a statue by Eric Gill on the BBC’s Broadcasting House using a hammer
Metropolitan Police officers cordon off the area as the activist is seen attempting to damage the statue on Wednesday night
Negotiators work with London Fire Brigade to try and engage a protestor who has climbed up a statue to damage it
A man is taken on firefighters hoist after more than four hours of protest about the Gill statue at Broadcasting House tonight
At one point this evening, the man said the statue should have been taken down in the past.
‘If this happened decades ago, I wouldn’t be here would I?’ he told the negotiators.
The Metropolitan Police said officers were called at around 4.15pm to Broadcasting House in Portland Street, Westminster, where a man had used a ladder to reach the 10ft tall figures above the front entrance.
Officers have cordoned off the entrance to the building, and London Ambulance Service paramedics are also on scene.
A spokesperson for the Met said: ‘Officers attended and remain on scene attempting to engage with the man.
‘Another man has been arrested on suspicion of conspiracy to commit criminal damage.’
The sculpture, depicting Prospero and Ariel from Shakespeare’s play The Tempest, was installed in 1933, according to the BBC.
‘Prospero, Ariel’s master, stands 10ft tall and is depicted sending Ariel out into the world. Ariel, as the spirit of the air, was felt to be an appropriate symbol for the new mystery of broadcasting,’ the BBC says on its website.
Police officers detain a man after he climbed onto the statue outside Broadcasting House and protested for four hours
The man appears to have used a ladder to access the 10ft statue and hit it with a hammer, knocking pieces to the ground
Pieces of broken plaster are seen on the ground after the activist damaged the statue in front of police officers on Wednesday
It adds: ‘After Broadcasting House was opened and the statues were installed, concern was voiced about the size of the sprite’s genitalia.
Eric Gill: The dark side of a famous sculptor
Pictured: English sculptor Eric Gill
- In 1907, Eric Gill moved with his wife Ethel Hester Moore to Ditchling in Sussex, where he established a bohemian artists’ community
- In Sussex and at his later home in a ruined Benedictine monastery in Wales he produced life drawings of his daughters as they grew up
- He drew his daughter Petra, who he admitted having sex with, as a nude teenager in work Girl In Bath
- In his diary, published after his death, he described his penchant for bestiality and incest – with his sister and with his daughters
- He had a string of affairs with models for his work
‘A question was tabled in the House of Commons, but the popular story, that Gill was ordered to modify the statue, is not substantiated.’
It is one of a number of Gill sculptures at the BBC’s headquarters – the Sower can be found in the reception area, while he also contributed to Bas Reliefs of Ariel in the building as well.
The BBC describes the Sower as: ‘The statue, made of English marble (Hopton Wood Stone) stands more than 2.6 metres tall in a niche by the doors leading to the artists’ lobby and studios.
‘A pedestal supports the statue, and bears the inscription ‘Deus Incrementu Dat’ (‘God giveth the increase’, Corinthians, chapter 3, verse 7).’
In 1990, the BBC adopted his typeface Gill Sans which he created in 1927. The corporation used the font for its wordmark and many of its onscreen television graphics.
The logo became one of the longest standing logos in the world and was only recently changed.
A biography on the Tate museum website said: ‘Gill’s 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.
A spokeswoman for the BBC declined to comment.
BBC journalist Shayan Sardarizadeh said Gill’s statue had been ‘an obsession for British QAnon, ‘save our children’, ‘Satanic ritual abuse’ and other conspiracy groups for a very long time’.
The motives or identity of the person attacking the statue with a hammer are unknown.
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 at the Old Bailey.
The verdict has prompted debate after the ‘Colston Four’ opted to stand trial in front of a jury and did not deny involvement in the incident, instead claiming the presence of the statue was a hate crime and it was therefore not an offence to remove it.
Attorney General Suella Braverman said she was considering referring the case so the law can be ‘clarified for future cases’ after stating the decision was ‘causing confusion’.
The presence of the work by a known paedophile at the headquarters of the national broadcaster has become a frequent focus of far-right activists such as Tommy Robinson who regularly cite its presence while criticising the BBC.
Pictured at work: Eric Gill chiselling the controversial statue in 1933 at Broadcasting House, when his abuse was still secret
Pictured: The protester defaces the statue by sculptor Eric Gill with the words ‘Noose All Peados’ and ‘Time to Go’
Police officers cordon off the area as a protester is seen attempting to damage a statue by Eric Gill on Broadcasting House
Video from the scene today showed that a cordon was put in place outside the entrance of Broadcasting House and police officers stood on guard as the man, who appeared to have used a ladder to reach the 10ft statue, began hammering away at it.
Owen King, 52, who works in marketing, was cycling past when he saw the man chipping away at the statue.
He said: ‘I saw all the police and I presumed he was protesting about Eric Gill and his background. Then the fire brigade were here as well. People are just wondering, ‘why don’t they take him off the sculpture?’
‘So I think they’re just waiting for him to come down. He’s got this tiny little hammer and he’s bashing away at the leg there. Not much is coming off and he seems to be resting a lot.’
He added: ‘Someone shouted to him, ‘get off it, you ugly person, an ugly person desecrating a beautiful thing’. And he shouted ‘you paedo’. And then everyone was laughing at him. I think you (should) separate art from the person.’
Responding to the man’s comments calling people paedophiles, he added: ‘I think it’s really reductive.’
Pieces of stone on the floor after a man climbed onto the statues Prospero and Ariel by the sculptor Eric Gill outside BBC HQ
The BBC have historically refused to remove the statue, citing it as a perfect symbol for broadcasting. Pictured: the activist
As well as attacking the statue, the activist was pictured scrawling graffiti on the building including ‘paedos and propaganda’
Moments later one woman, who was walking past the scene, shouted: ‘Art should be separated from the person. You should spend your energy and time with something else. Art can be beautiful by itself.’
Meanwhile, another man live-streamed the incident on social media before police intervened and it is understood he has since been arrested.
Pieces of plaster could be seen on the ground after they had been chipped off the controversial statue.
Eric Gill was one of the most respected artists of the 20th century when he died in 1940.
However his diaries, published in 1989, revealed that he regularly abused his daughters Betty and Petra, as well as the family dog.
Sexual abuse survivors charities have long called for the statue’s removal, especially since the Jimmy Savile scandal emerged after his death.
The motives and identity of the man remain unknown at this stage as police continue to try and negotiate his surrender
Police officers, London Ambulance crew members and BBC staff members stand at the foot of the statue during the protest
The BBC has previously refused to remove the statue citing it as a metaphor for broadcasting. Pictured (left): Eric Gill with the sculpture in 1933 and (right) the man after her climbed onto the controversial statue and began attacking it with a hammer
Pictured: Metropolitan Police said officers were called at around 4.15pm on Wednesday to Broadcasting House on Portland Street, Westminster, where a man had used a ladder to reach the 10-foot tall figures above the front entrance of the BBC’s HQ
Gill’s other famous works include The Creation of Adam, three bas-reliefs in stone for the League of Nations building in Geneva, from 1938 and the Gill Sans and Perpetua typeface, which he created in the late 1920s.
The BBC was contacted for comment but has previously said there are no plans to remove the statue.
The corporation has, in the past, described the statue ‘as a metaphor for broadcasting, executed by one of the last century’s major British artists whose work has been widely displayed in leading UK museums and galleries’.
Gill, who was born in 1882 in Brighton, Sussex, converted to Catholicism in 1913. He was then invited to design theStations Of The Cross in Westminster Cathedral.
The Catholic Church has also rejected calls to dismantle the work.