Replacement slavery plaque to be installed on statue following theft

City councillors agreed that a new bronze plaque should be fitted on the base of the controversial 150ft statue within two months after the original one was removed.

Replacement plaque explaining Henry Dundas’ role in delaying abolition of slave trade to be installed iStock

A replacement plaque explaining Henry Dundas’ ‘instrumental’ role in delaying abolition of the slave trade is to be installed on Edinburgh’s Melville Monument.

City councillors agreed that a new bronze plaque should be fitted on the base of the controversial 150ft statue within two months after the original one was removed by members of the Dundas family.

Police Scotland recently re-opened an investigation into the “theft” and a spokesperson said information received from the council “is currently being assessed”.

In the motion passed at the City Chambers on Thursday, December 14, councillors expressed “dismay and shock” that “the perpetrator has openly admitted to the crime but does not yet seem to be facing arrest or charge”. They also called for “an update on the prosecution process”

Bobby Dundas, seven times great-grandson of the 18th century politician whose statue towers over St Andrew Square, has maintained the ‘Melville Monument Committee’ (MMC) acted within the law in September when it took down the plaque which hasn’t been returned to the council.

He claimed the local authority had no right to install it in the first place.

The plaque was installed in 2020 after the Black Lives Matter movement sparked a debate over the Viscount Melville’s role in the process of abolition.

Wording agreed by councillors stated he was responsible for the enslavement of half a million Africans as he had been “instrumental in deferring the abolition of the Atlantic slave trade” as home secretary.

Bobby Dundas has dismissed it as being “misleading” and created by “non-historians at the height of the Black Lives Matter demonstrations in 2020”.

In March a planning application to the council from MMC to remove the metal plate was granted, however the council said it was approved “on a technicality” and that as the application wasn’t from the owner of the statue it couldn’t be removed.

Mr Dundas told the Local Democracy Reporting Service: “MMC has planning permission, properly obtained, to remove the plaque, which it has done.

“The MMC have taken senior expert legal advice and are confident that we took all proper steps before removing the plaque. The MMC intends to continue to honour its legal obligations.”

The row has seen the council threaten legal action against Dundas unless the plaque was returned, a request swiftly refused by the 38-year-old entrepreneur and adventurer.

Police were initially asked to investigate by councillor Claire Miller but said “no criminality was established”.

Then council leader Cammy Day said in October an “official report” had been filed with the police “following the refusal of our request to return the plaque”.

A Police Scotland spokesperson said: “On Thursday, October 26, 2023, we received a report of a theft from a monument in St Andrew Square, Edinburgh.

“Information received is currently being assessed.”

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