Yobs broke my art and it breaks my heart

THEY were his pride and joy, the product of nine months of hard work and something he was keen to show off to his other half.

• Mike Inglis' work immortalised members of the Broxburn and Livingston Brass Band and had been created as part of celebrations of the area's shale mining past

But when artist Mike Inglis took his partner Belinda Tippen to view his artwork, he was shocked to find that eight of the ten larger-than-life metal figures he had created had been stolen or vandalised - just 36 hours after going on display.

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Only two of the ten figures, which showed members of the Broxburn and Livingston Brass Band playing musical instruments, remained unscathed, with seven stolen and one so badly damaged that it was beyond repair.

Mr Inglis, 44, had created the figures as part of the Shale People Project to celebrate the history of Broxburn and Uphall and the area's shale mining past, but instead the group behind the project has been left with a 2000 bill to replace the artwork.

The figures, the largest of which was around 6ft 8in, were installed on the walls of several buildings using six-inch bolts and heavy-duty glue on Thursday. They were stolen in the early hours of Saturday morning.

Mr Inglis, a father-of-two who lives in Culross, Fife, said: "I just couldn't believe it when I saw they were gone.

"It's hard to put into words how I felt - I was totally gutted. It feels like a real knife in your guts.

"The community has suffered a huge setback in this regenerative project and the brutal irony is that this treacherous act came from within. On a personal level, I am quite simply hollow with loss."

The community art project - named the Shale People Trail - was expected to last at least seven years.

Four figures were stolen from the gable end of Aldo's Fish Bar in Uphall and one from the fire doors of Broxburn Swimming Pool.

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Three figures from vennels off East Main Street in Broxburn were also vandalised in an attempt to remove them in the early hours of Saturday morning. By Sunday morning, two had gone.

Shale People Project co-ordinator and local artist, Shirley-Anne Murdoch, 50, who lives in Broxburn, said: "We're absolutely gutted about the figures. Mike has not slept for the last few nights, it has torn his heart out. The effect of the theft and destruction of these artworks is devastating.

"We've also had to cancel a planned project launch in early March as a significant part of what we're celebrating has been destroyed. Whoever is responsible has effectively ripped out the heart of this 'labour of community spirit'."

Mr Inglis had been working on the artwork since May last year. Planning permission also had to be granted by the council to install the figures.

Ms Murdoch said: "Even if we do get them back, I don't think we will get them back in one piece. We're now in a position that we simply can't afford to replace these stolen or damaged works."

Broxburn councillor Graeme Morrice said: "Those responsible should hang their heads in shame."

A spokeswoman for Lothian and Borders Police said: "Police are appealing for witnesses after a number of pieces of public art were vandalised or stolen from sites around Broxburn at the weekend.

"These items are very distinctive large metal figures, and we would appeal for anyone who may have seen something suspicious, or have any information that may help, to get in touch with police."

Anyone with information should call Lothian and Borders Police on 0131-311 3131 or Crimestoppers on 0800-555 111.

Ms Murdoch's e-mail address is [email protected].

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