Council denies it is planning to reinstate 'racist' dog grave

A council has denied it is looking to reinstate a dog grave with a racial slur on it after it was quietly removed at the height of the Black Lives Matter protests.

The memorial to a pet which died in 1902 has been deemed ‘not appropriate’ for the current age by Coventry City Council.

Displaying the N-word, the weather-beaten marker was taken down as the anti-racism movement swept across the Atlantic after the death of George Floyd at the hands of police officers in the US.

The gravestone has since been held in ‘safe storage’ close to where it had stood by the side of a hotel in Coombe Abbey Park.

The council has remained tight-lipped over plans for the marker but released some details under the Freedom of Information Act this week.

It follows an earlier U-turn after the local authority said it would not be removing the stone following a ‘racism’ complaint last year.

Members of the public later reported it had gone missing.

In its response to the information request, the council said: ‘We can advise that the dog headstone was removed on the 9th June 2020 and remains in safe storage at Coombe Abbey Park.

‘Its planned future use is to be discussed with Rugby Borough Council Planning and Historic England.

‘The new park manager will be picking this up with Rugby Borough Council and colleagues in the new year to discuss reinstatement of the tombstone in the graveyard.

‘It is a discussion only about future plans for the tombstone at this stage.’

Opinion has been sharply divided over the marker, which displays what is believed to have been a popular pet name at the time.

One park user, who gave his name as Nathan, has said: ‘I think an exhibition on how the owners of British stately homes such as Coombe Abbey were often involved with the transatlantic slave trade would be an appropriate way for it to be exhibited.

‘It would show it within the correct context to show that in America the word was being used whilst black people were being lynched and burnt alive in the street whilst the average British person was so far removed from the horrors that their empire created they thought it something ‘cute’ and appropriate to name their pet.’

However an online campaign to replace the stone attracted support during the summer.

A Coventry resident, who asked not to be named, said at the time: ‘Personally, I think that this has nothing to do with racism and everything to do with political correctness gone mad.

‘I would also suggest that the vast majority of black people are not at all offended by the dog’s headstone and that it was removed simply because people in authority now fear that they may be called out as racist.’

Both councils and Historic England this week distanced themselves from any future plans for the gravestone.

The heritage body initially said it had not been involved in any discussions, but did comment after Coventry Council produced email records showing correspondence had taken place last year.

The organisation said: ‘We’ve looked back to email records from Summer 2019 and can confirm that we informed Coventry City Council that, as the headstone isn’t listed, the matter should be discussed with the local planning authority, Rugby Borough Council.’

A spokesperson for Rugby Council said: ‘We are the planning authority while Coventry City Council is the landowner.

‘We are waiting for Coventry City Council to inform us of their plans to ensure it doesn’t break any restrictions in planning law.’

Coventry Council’s press office denied that there was any future reinstatement in the pipeline, despite its earlier disclosure.

A spokesperson said: ‘There are no plans to reinstate the gravestone. We can confirm the historical gravestone in memory of a loved pet was removed.

‘Our stance on racism is clear and although the gravestone was from another time it is not appropriate today.’

The Black Lives Matter movement has cast a new glare on statues and monuments with racial connotations.

In the most high-profile incident, a statue of slave trader Edward Colston was toppled in Bristol harbour.

Four people have been charged with criminal damage and are due before the city’s magistrate court in the new year.

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