'Sick' vandals desecrate statue

A TOWN mayor has labelled vandals who "desecrated" a statue of the last ruler of the Sikh nation as "despicable" and "sick".Police are treated the defacing of the memorial of Thetford's 19th Century Sikh benefactor, the Maharajah Duleep Singh, as racially motivated.

A TOWN mayor has labelled vandals who "desecrated" a statue of the last ruler of the Sikh nation as "despicable" and "sick".

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

White paint was poured over the £50,000 bronze statue standing on Butten Island, near the centre of town.

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

It is likely to cost thousands to restore the statue, an important tourist attraction forming part of the only UK-wide Sikh heritage trail.

Town mayor Ray Key declared himself "livid" and said the vandals should be imprisoned.

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Police are testing the cans left behind, checking CCTV and want to speak to any witnesses.

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".

Since it was given to the town in 1999, the statue had 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 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.

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.

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