Council votes to remove statue of ‘sadistic slave owner’

Cardiff Council has voted to remove the statue of a “sadistic 19th century slave owner” from its civic building.

The marble memorial to Sir Thomas Picton has stood in Cardiff City Hall since 1916 when it was unveiled by future prime minister David Lloyd George as part of a series depicting “Heroes of Wales”.

Calls to remove the statue of Sir Thomas, the most senior officer killed at the Battle of Waterloo, followed the toppling of the statue of slave trader Edward Colston in Bristol during a Black Lives Matter march in June.

On Thursday evening, councillors successfully voted to remove the statue from the Marble Hall of Heroes with 57 in favour, five against, and nine abstentions.

It will now be boxed over while an application to remove the artwork will be made to the Welsh Government, as the building is Grade I listed.

Cadw, the Welsh government’s historic environment service, will be asked to give advice, with a final decision expected to be made near December.

The motion to have the statue removed was tabled by Labour’s Saeed Ebrahim, who tweeted following the vote: “The symbolism of me, a black man, tabling this motion to remove a slaver statue is not lost on me.”

Mr Ebrahim is chairing a task force set up by council leader Huw Thomas to work with black communities in Cardiff to understand the support they want from city officials.

Mr Thomas, who previously labelled the statue an “affront” to Black people, said: “There have been well-publicised calls in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement for a reassessment of how individuals in British history with involvement in slavery are commemorated.

“Specifically in Cardiff the debate has focused on the statue of Sir Thomas Picton in City Hall.

“I am pleased our Council has taken the decision to remove this statue and I’m also pleased that this decision was made following a public debate and a democratic vote.

“However, whilst gestures such as this are important, they cannot deflect us from the harder task of trying to address the challenges still experienced by Black communities today.”

In June, Cardiff mayor Dan De’Ath was the first official to call for the removal of the statue of the “sadistic 19th Century slave-owner, Sir Thomas Picton”.

Sir Thomas was accused of having a dozen slaves executed during his “highly brutal” regime as governor of Trinidad during colonial rule, and is said to have used the slave trade to partially build up his considerable fortune.

In 1806, nine years before he became the highest-ranking officer killed at the Battle of Waterloo, he was found guilty of torturing a 14-year-old mixed-race girl during his rule of the Caribbean island.

The girl, Louisa Calderon, was tortured in an attempt to get her to confess to stealing from a businessman she lived with as a mistress, and was suspended with rope by one arm above a spike in the floor.

He was never sentenced, and two years later the verdict was reversed at a retrial.

Earlier in July, First Minister Mark Drakeford ordered an “urgent audit” of statues, street and building names to address Wales’s connections with the slave trade, which will be headed by the country’s first black female councillor, Gaynor Legall.