TWO leading councillors have called for a debate over one of the district’s most prominent statues.

In light of statutes with links to race and heritage being pulled down or vandalised across the country during Black Lives Matter protests, Hexham town councillors John Ord and deputy mayor Steve Ball have called for the future of a statue of Lt Col. George Elliott Benson in Hexham to be discussed.

The bronze figure of Lt Col. Benson has stood at the entrance of Beaumont Street for 116 years.

Funded by public money, it was erected in 1904 in memory of the Allerwash-born soldier who served in artillery arm of the British Army, and died at the Battle of Brakenlaagte during the Boer War in 1901.

He was hailed a hero by the people of Hexham, but Coun. Ord wanted to also raise awareness of the reports Lt Col. Benson was complicit in filling concentration camps with the wives and children of farmers so that African gold and diamonds could enrich the British Empire.

In recent years, there have been calls for the monument to be spruced up, with Northumberland County Council set to fund the project.

But Coun. Ord claimed that attitudes had changed considerably since the days of Lt Col. Benson’s service.

He explained: “It is very clear that Lt Col. Benson was a hero in the eyes of the people of Hexham at the beginning of the 20th century. His bravery was undoubted. He was an outstanding soldier involved in the expansion of the British Empire and served with courage and loyalty to his end.

“Do we now question the then-held belief that European countries could exploit Africa or any other part of the world through force of arms?”

Coun. Ord said he did not wish to see the statue removed, but would like to see the addition of an additional plaque, placed next to an existing information board about the history of Beaumont Street.

He added: “It would explain empire building and the racism and inhumanity that it involved. It would offer a perspective on our past and an opportunity to reflect on our actions in the world today.”

Fellow town councillor, Coun. Steve Ball, said: “I would welcome a debate on this issue. I question whether it’s right to spend public money on restoring a monument which has no relevance to modern society.

“I’ve always supported public art, and a modern day acknowledgement of Hexham’s history would be a better use of the money.”