THE BBC has defended its decision not to remove a statue by a paedophile artist outside its headquarters after a protester smashed it with a hammer.

Police were called to reports of damage to the Prospero and Ariel statue, which was made by Brighton-born artist Eric Gill in 1933.

Campaigners have asked for it to be removed from Portland Place, Westminster, after it was revealed that Gill sexually abused his two eldest daughters.

On Wednesday, a man attacked the 10ft statue with a hammer, removing large parts of stone.

After a four-and-a-half-hour stand-off with police, the man came down with assistance from the fire service and was arrested on suspicion of criminal damage.

The statue, which depicts Prospero and Ariel from Shakespeare’s play The Tempest, has been on display at the BBC Broadcasting House since 1933.

Since the incident, the corporation has defended its decision not to remove or replace the work.

The Argus: Protester damaging a statue by Brighton-born paedophile artist Eric Gill Protester damaging a statue by Brighton-born paedophile artist Eric Gill

A statement from the BBC said: “When the statue was commissioned, Ariel – as the spirit of the air – was seen as an appropriate symbol for the new dawn of broadcasting.

“The BBC doesn’t condone the views or actions of Eric Gill. Clearly there are debates about whether you can separate the work of an artist from the art itself.

“We think the right thing to do is for people to have those discussions. We don’t think the right approach is to damage the artwork itself.”

Gill, who was born in Brighton in 1882, converted to Catholicism in 1913. He was then invited to design the Stations Of The Cross in Westminster Cathedral.

He was one of the most respected artists of the 20th century when he died in 1940.

However, his diaries, published in 1989, revealed that he abused his daughters Betty and Petra, as well as the family dog.

A biography on the Tate Museum website said: “His religious views and subject matter contrast with his sexual behaviour, including his erotic art, and (as mentioned in his own diaries) his extramarital affairs and sexual abuse of his daughters, sisters and dog.”

Nearly 2,500 people have previously signed a petition demanding the removal of the sculpture on the website of political activist group 38 Degrees.

The incident came a week after a jury cleared four people of criminal damage after they pulled down the statue of slave trader Edward Colston in Bristol.

The bronze memorial to the 17th century figure was pulled down during a Black Lives Matter protest in June 2020, before being rolled into the water.

Those responsible were acquitted on January 5 following an 11-day trial at the Old Bailey.