A VANDAL who smashed a gravestone claims to have been retaliating after the removal of a “deeply offensive” headstone in a Sussex churchyard.

The gravestone of an African man called Scipio Africanus, who was enslaved in the 18th century, was broken in two in Bristol on Wednesday.

A message scrawled in chalk nearby warned: “Now look at what you made me do. Stop protesting. Leave Elliott’s grave alone. Put Colston’s statue back or things will really heat up.”

The Argus:

The threat comes after a controversial gravestone belonging to G H Elliott, who performed in blackface, was covered up and then removed from St Margaret’s churchyard in Rottingdean.

And it follows recent anti-racist Black Lives Matter protests as well as the toppling of a statue of slave trader Edward Colston, which was thrown in Bristol harbour.

The Argus:

G H Eliott was a white music hall singer who died in 1962. His headstone in St Margaret’s churchyard refers to him by his stage name, the “Chocolate Coloured C**n”.

St Margaret’s told The Argus it would remove the gravestone, along with another belonging to “C**n singer and dancer” Alice Banford, after initially covering them in plastic.

The church said it intended to put the monuments into “safe storage as soon as possible” partly to “protect them”.

The Argus:

The vicar, Father Anthony Moor, said they were initially covered to prevent them being defaced or damaged.

The Argus has since revealed this followed more than a year of campaigning by a resident who took his complaint to the Church of England – and was repeatedly told he would have to pay almost £300 to have the language removed.

The Diocese of Chichester issued a statement saying the headstones were covered followed conversations with residents and “recent high profile campaigns” which have “rightly drawn attention to issues surrounding racial prejudice”.

The Argus:

The Parochial Church Council of St Margaret’s, Rottingdean, has decided to “apply for a faculty” to remove both headstones into safe storage.

The statement said the church had done so for two reasons. It said the church has a legal obligation to protect the gravestones because they are the property of the two performers’ relatives.

It said it would also welcome an “urgent conversation” with the relatives about the appropriateness of the wording.

It said: “In law, a headstone is the property of the heirs at law. Efforts will therefore continue in the attempt to contact the relatives of G H Elliott (Alice Banford is believed to have no surviving relatives).

“The PCC would like to speak urgently with G H Elliott’s relatives in order to work with them on the re-engraving of the memorial or the construction of a new headstone which properly commemorates and respects his life but which omits wording that causes hurt and offence in today’s society. It is proposed that these new headstones would be introduced into the churchyard once necessary permission is obtained.”

The Argus: