A FRESH attempt has been made to topple a controversial statue erected to one of the most notorious figures in the history of the Highland Clearances.
The 100ft statue of George Leveson-Gower, the first Duke of Sutherland, has towered over the village of Golspie from the summit of 1,300ft Ben Bhraggie for almost two centuries.
The monument to the aristocrat, who drove tenants off his vast estates to pave the way for sheep, survived a bid to blow it up in 1994 and a major public campaign to replace the statue with a Celtic cross.
Last year, vandals daubed the word “monster” in bright green paint on the massive plinth at the base of the statue, known locally simply as “The Mannie”.
The words “sons of Scotland” have also been daubed on one side of the plinth, but police are not believed to be linking this to the recent attack, in which a number of stones in the plinth has been removed in what officers believe is a new and concerted attempt to bring the statue down.
Large blocks of sandstone from three of the four corners of the plinth have been prised free and left lying in the grass at the top of the hill.
Alan Barclay, a retired teacher and community council member, said people opposed to the statue appeared “hell bent” on having the statue pulled down.
He added: “You will find very few people who want it taken away. It is part of history. If you take history away nobody will ask any questions.
“If he stays there, people will ask what it is and they then hear what happened here during the Highland Clearances.
“We want it to stay. There are some who don’t and those who don’t are hell bent on taking it down. Three out of the four corners have now been vandalised.
“I don’t know how solid the inside of the plinth is but it could come down.”
Mr Barclay said that more than one person could be responsible for the attack on the statue.
“I can’t see how one person could do what has been done on their own,” he said. “There must be two to three people involved at the very least, with someone acting as a look-out.
“These are not stones that can be lifted out easily. They would have had to be knocked out with a crowbar or power tools.”
Sgt Keith Robb, of Northern Constabulary, said anyone with information about the vandalism should contact the force.
He said: “This is not the first time that this has happened. It has happened in previous years but this seems to be a more sustained vandalism to the statue. Tools would have had to have been involved.”
Peter Voy, the factor of the Sutherland Estates, was away on business yesterday and could not be contacted for comment.
However, an estate source said: “The opinion of the local people is that it’s a scandal. They don’t want to get rid of the statue.
“They are very fond of ‘The Mannie’ on the hill. Its original purpose or function is irrelevant. They just like it as a landmark.”
He added: “It doesn’t really belong to the estate in the sense that it was raised by public subscription.”