School golliwog mural: Police drop investigation

A POLICE investigation into a mural at a Scottish primary school featuring a golliwog has been dropped, with teachers now pledging to use the painting to educate pupils.

Edinburgh City Council confirmed the mural will not be altered. Picture: Ian Rutherford

Officers said they examined a potential “hate incident” following claims from one parent who was considering sending her son to Wardie Primary in Edinburgh, but last night confirmed they found that no crime had been committed.

Edinburgh City Council confirmed the mural, painted in 1936 by the respected Fife-born artist RH Westwater and recently restored at a cost of £17,600, will not be altered.

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Earlier this month, parent Margaret Neizer-Rocha had complained about the “racist and offensive nature” of the mural, as reported in The Scotsman last weekend.

Defenders of the painting, including local politicians, said that the row had been “blown out of proportion” by police involvement, but did suggest it should be used to educate pupils as to views of the past.

It emerged yesterday that Jane Nieminska, head teacher at Wardie Primary, has now written a letter to parents explaining that no changes will be made to the mural.

She wrote: “We do recognise some people may find the representation of a golliwog in the mural to be offensive, but at the same time it is important to recognise that this is a historic piece of artwork which has been in our school for over 75 years.

“Its historic nature has been recognised by the fact that the school recently received heritage lottery funding to restore it and many parents supported our efforts to restore it.

“After a complaint was made to the police about the mural, I met our community police officer earlier this week. I have now been informed that they do not intend to take any further action.”

She added: “Following discussions with council officers, we have decided that we won’t cover up the mural but instead continue to use it as an educational resource for the school and explore how things that may have been acceptable many years ago are no longer seen in the same way in the present day.

“I do very much appreciate the messages of support I have received to date from parents and members of the public.”

The nine-panel mural, which also features children’s character Alice in Wonderland, has been displayed in the school hall for 77 years.

On Thursday, Mr Westwater’s son, Henry, from Tain, Inverness-shire, said: “It was painted in 1936, when people’s perception of things was somewhat different. I had a golliwog when I was a small boy; many children did.

“I can see why it could be a bit offensive – I didn’t give our children or grandchildren golliwogs. This woman has every right to complain. But this painting is from another time.”

Dominic Heslop, a Conservative city councillor, said the reaction had been “political correctness gone mad” and added: “The wonderful painting at Wardie Primary School should not be seen as an embarrassment, but rather a symbol of the transition from old perceptions to the 21st century.”

A council spokeswoman said: “While we understand the offensiveness of the image, it is in no way indicative of the attitudes of either the school or the council.”