Posted: Fri 12th Jun 2020

Former MP says he was ‘wrong’ to support installation of controversial H.M. Stanley statue in Denbigh

North Wales news and information
This article is old - Published: Friday, Jun 12th, 2020

A former MP has admitted he should have known of controversies surrounding  explorer H M Stanley before he supported installing a Denbigh statue dedicated to him.

Former Vale of Clwyd MP Chris Ruane has sent an email to Denbigh town council in which he calls for a public consultation on its removal.

A debate on the future of the controversial landmark was due to be at the council’s meeting next week.

However it has been taken off the agenda and a new date has been set for Wednesday, June 24, for a special meeting on the subject.

More than 50 prominent figures signed a public letter opposing the statue before it was unveiled in March 2011.

The controversy over Stanley’s links with atrocities in the Congo were re-ignited by worldwide Black Lives Matter protests, held in the wake of the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, USA, on May 25, while being restrained by police officers.

 Mr Ruane, who lost his seat in December’s general election, said he’d done research over the past 10 years into the Irish side of his family which had taught him more about about Stanley’s life.

He also attended the Black Lives Matter protest in Rhyl on Monday, which he said “was amazing”.

Speaking to the Local Democracy Reporting Service, he said he read about how Sir Roger Casement exposed “Stanley‘s abuses in the Congo”, in a book by Nobel Prize winner Mario Vargas Llosa.

Sir Roger Casement, who worked for Stanley in Congo Free State, received his knighthood for a report into human rights abuses carried out there.

The study led to the Belgian Government holding its own inquiry after which it took control of the Congo Free State from Belgium’s King Leopold II – Stanley’s employer.

Mr Ruane said: “We are brought up on the stuff about HM Stanley the explorer but I should have known more about it.

“With some of the criticisms coming from the young people we need to educate ourselves.

“This international movement is asking us to examine ourselves and reflect on our words, thoughts and deeds.

“When we are reminded of that we realise it’s wrong.

“Denbigh council had a public consultation 10 years ago and they should have another one.”

Born John Rowlands in 1841, Stanley grew up in Asaph Union Workhouse, on the site of the former HM Stanley Hospital.

After becoming a teacher and emigrating to the United States in 1859 he fought in the civil war and changed his name to Henry Morton Stanley.

He became a journalist, then explorer, before managing the affairs of King Leopold II in the Congo.

Stanley returned to the UK and became MP for Lambeth in south London, between 1895-1900. He was knighted in 1899 and died in 1904.

An obelisk to the explorer, who was credited with the famous phrase “Dr Livingstone I presume” was also put up in 2011 in St Asaph.

The city’s council will debate the future of that installation at its next meeting on June 24.

The city’s former hospital site was also named after the controversial figure but has since been turned into a housing estate, now ironically called Livingstone Place.

In his email to Denbigh Mayor, Gaynor Wood-Tickle, Mr Ruane said he was writing as a public figure who originally didn’t oppose the statue.

It continues: “I acknowledge the role of the local councils at that time who undertook a public consultation exercise.

“However, in the 10 years since, during research into my own Irish side of the family’s history, I have learned far more about Stanley and his connection with Sir Roger Casement, who as well as being an Irish nationalist exposed Stanley‘s abuses in the Congo.

“Casement received his knighthood for this and there’s another local connection – he was baptised in Rhyl.

“I attended the Black Lives Matter protest in Rhyl Events Arena on Monday 8th of June.

“It was amazing to see 300 mainly young people standing in solidarity against the murder of George Floyd.

“I read the banners and listened to the speakers and to the wider messages of the BLM protests internationally.

“They have asked each of us, no matter what the colour of our skin, to reflect on our own thoughts, words and actions, to detect any elements of racist behaviour in our everyday life.

“They have also asked us to educate ourselves on the issues of racism and slavery.

“Denbigh has a proud history of celebrating its Welsh history, culture and language whilst being open-minded and developing relations with those who have campaigned for the oppressed around the world.

“The Denbigh Anti-Apartheid Group in the 1980’s inspired the establishment of a similar group in Rhyl, of which I was a proud member.

“Denbigh Cuba Solidarity was another great local organisation which established international bonds of solidarity and friendship with the isolated people of Cuba.

“Denbigh’s Amnesty group campaigned for human rights over decades.

“I have reflected on these demands from the younger generation and realise that my decision to support the erection of the statue in 2010 was wrong and was based on incomplete knowledge.

“I now think it should be removed. I would urge Denbigh Town Council to convene a public consultation on the removal of the statue.

“I also believe this is an opportunity to explore creative and innovative ways of learning more about our local links to this period of international history, in the local schools and libraries, so that ours is a legacy of challenging institutional racism.

“I ask you as civic leaders to reach out once again, support the Black Lives Matter cause and initiate a public consultation about the removal of the HM Stanley statue.”

By Jez Hemming – Local Democracy Reporter

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