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Slave owner’s statue could be removed from West India Quay tonight

PUBLISHED: 17:17 09 June 2020 | UPDATED: 17:23 09 June 2020

The Robert Milligan statue in West India Quay. Picture: Getty Images

The Robert Milligan statue in West India Quay. Picture: Getty Images

Getty Images

A statue of a slave owner in West India Quay could be removed as early as tonight, the organisation which owns the land it is on has confirmed.

A petition had been set up to remove the statue of Robert Milligan, a wealthy 18th century merchant and ship owner who was involved in the construction of the quay.

He served as chairman of the West India Dock Company and the statue was commissioned by the company after his death in 1809.

According to the Museum of London Docklands, near where the statue is located, at the time of Milligan’s death he owned 526 African slaves who were forced to work on a plantation in Jamaica.

The dock itself was partially funded by slavery profits and was even designed to enhance those profits by improving the efficiency of how slave-grown goods were imported.

Cllr Ehtasham Haque started an online petition calling for it to be removed, with more than 4,000 people signing it in less than two days.

He said: “This statue was not built to teach us history. It was displayed publicly to honour and glorify a slaver who has no relevance in a 21st century civilised society.”

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Mayor of Tower Hamlets John Biggs and the Museum of London Docklands, close to where the Milligan statue is located, have both backed the call for it to be removed.

A protest was also due to take place by the statue at 6.30pm every day until its removal.

A spokesperson for the Canal and River Trust, which owns the land, said: “We recognise the wishes of the local community concerning the statue of Robert Milligan at London Docklands and are committed to working with London Borough of Tower Hamlets, the Museum of London Docklands and partners at Canary Wharf to organise its safe removal as soon as possible.

“Working with our partners at the council, we’re hoping to be able to remove the statue today (Tuesday, June 9), but all the safety aspects around weight/loading need to be considered.

“Councillor Haque understands our position, so we hope that with his and police support, those on the dockside this evening will understand our commitment to remove it ASAP in a way that is safe and allows the Museum of Docklands a chance to consider if the statue should be part of its exhibition on slavery.”

The spokesperson continued: “The Trust stands with our waterside communities against racism. We promote equality, diversity and inclusion, using our canals to enrich the lives of all those alongside our waterways from every community.”

“We are working to confirm ownership. The statue was owned by the London Docklands Development Corporation and may have been transferred to British Waterways in the 90s as part of the wider transfer of land ownership and then passed to the Trust when we were established in 2012.

“However, what is important is that the Trust, London Docklands Museum, Tower Hamlets Council and the various estate management companies in the area are working collectively to remove the statue as soon as possible.”


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