Police to probe Alex Salmond bonfire effigy row

East Sussex council tweeted this image of the Alex Salmond effigy. Picture: twitter.com/eastsussexcc

East Sussex council tweeted this image of the Alex Salmond effigy. Picture: twitter.com/eastsussexcc

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POLICE WILL investigate a complaint about the portrayal of Scotland’s First Minister Alex Salmond as an effigy at a bonfire in southern England last night.

It was thought the effigy would be burnt after being paraded through a town’s streets as part of its annual bonfire celebrations.

East Sussex County Council tweeted a picture of the model created by the Waterloo Bonfire Society for the Lewes Bonfire parade which attracts thousands of people to the East Sussex town every year.

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However they were quick to disassociate themselves of any involvement in creating the effigy following a backlash against it.

The model shows Mr Salmond holding a sign which says 45%, the number of Scottish people who voted for independence from the UK in September, while the Loch Ness Monster peers over his shoulder.

Sussex Police said last night it was aware of the portrayal of Mr Salmond at the event and acknowledged that concerns had been raised.

It added: “Whilst we accept there is a long tradition of creating effigies of high-profile individuals in politics, sport, the media, etc, a complaint has nevertheless been received and will be investigated.”

The force also tweeted: “For those enquiring we have been advised that there won’t be any burning of the Alex Salmond effigies this evening in Lewes.”

Anne McLaughlin, a managing director of a communications company, tweeted: “Can it possibly be acceptable or even legal 2burn an effigy of a LIVING PERSON? Not part of my moral code. @EastSussexCC you are despicable!”

But the council rebuffed the criticism and replied: “Please note that the Alex Salmond and Nessie models were created by Waterloo Bonfire Society #LewesBonfire and have NO connection to ESCC.”

Television presenter and journalist Piers Morgan also tried to soften the blow by tweeting: “Don’t take this Lewes bonfire thing too personally @AlexSalmond - they burned me too.”

Mr Salmond told BBC Scotland: “I’m in pretty good company - Angela Merkel got the burning treatment from the East Sussex Conservative council.

“I think their judgment is askew but if they think I’m a threat to the Westminster establishment like Guy Fawkes, they are right.

“I am used to insults from Tories in East Sussex and if they think that is a good thing to do it is up to them.”

He added that he was more concerned about Nessie being burned and said it was “totally outrageous”.

Mr Salmond and Nessie were due to be paraded through the town before being blown up at the Waterloo Bonfire Society’s fireworks display at Malling Brooks.

The society, which is celebrating is 50th anniversary since it was reformed, said it would be charging an admission fee to watch the display for the first time in its history because of rising costs of securing the site and meeting health and safety obligations.

The first Bonfire Societies in Lewes were set up in 1853 as a way to organise the riotous annual celebrations by the “Bonfire Boys”, which often led to fires and disorder.

Each society has its own particular costumes, bonfire site and procession route within the town.

Bonfire in Lewes does not only commemorate the gunpowder plot, but also other events including the burning of 17 Protestant martyrs in the town’s High Street from 1555 to 1557 under the reign of Mary Tudor.

Organisers decided to pull the effigy after issuing a statement that sought to put distance from any political affiliations.

In the statement, the Waterloo Bonfire Society said: “As a Lewes Bonfire Society we have a tradition of creating satirical tableaux in caricature based on topical local, national and international events. It is a tradition which has endured for many years and is intended to portray familiar stories and characters in a light hearted way. Clearly the Scottish Referendum has been a big story in the news recently and Alex Salmond is high a profile figure.”

It went on to say: “In the light of the responses received to our tableau idea this year we have made the decision to withdraw it from our celebrations.”

The event marks the uncovering of the Gunpowder Plot in 1605, but also commemorates the deaths of 17 Protestant martyrs from Lewes, who were burnt at the stake during the 16th century.

A smaller effigy of what is believed to be Pope Paul V is also burnt during the celebrations.

Among the centrepeice effigies burnt in the past are Syrian president Bashar al-Assad and Osama bin Laden.

A spokesperson for the council told The Scotsman earlier today that the authority was not involved with the event, adding: “The Lewes Bonfire event is not organised by the council and East Sussex County Council are not involved.

“The effigy belongs to Waterloo Bonfire Society and has been ‘parked’ in a car park near county hall.

“This event, organised by a number of bonfire societies, is extremely well known in the south east. We will amend the tweet to make it clear [the council has no involvement].”

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