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UK Politics

Museum manager suspended over statue to Margaret Thatcher

The future Prime Minister was born and brought up in Grantham

Sir Isaac Newton went to school there, the country’s first female police officer patrolled its streets, and its locally baked gingerbread biscuits are legendary.

But Grantham’s biggest claim to fame is the future Prime Minister who was born and brought up in the Lincolnshire market town.

During her 11 years in office, Baroness Thatcher of Kesteven often reminisced about her upbringing in Grantham to explain her philosophy of government. But despite its place in modern British history, the only monument to the town’s best-known product is a modest plaque on the wall of the building where Margaret Hilda Roberts grew up.

That looked as if it was about to change this week when it emerged that a marble statue of the premier could be installed in the town’s museum, alongside a Spitting Image puppet of Lady Thatcher and one of her blue suits. The prospect caused uproar locally – the former premier divides opinion in Grantham just as she does across the country.

But the affair of the Iron Lady’s statue took a bizarre twist when it emerged that the museum’s general manager, Jayne Robb, had been suspended for making “erroneous” claims that the artwork was heading to the town.

A museum spokesman told the Grantham Journal: “We have never been offered the Margaret Thatcher statue. Any suggestions we have are entirely erroneous. The general manager has been suspended following allegations which have been made. She has been suspended while investigations are carried out. We cannot comment further.”

The controversy centres on an 8ft work by the sculptor Neil Simmons, who secured a £150,000 commission from the House of Commons in 1998 to immortalise Lady Thatcher. But it came to grief within weeks of going on display in the Guildhall Art Gallery when a protester decapitated the two-ton statue.

The attacker was jailed for three months for criminal damage, and since being repaired, the artwork has spent much of the past decade in storage in the Commons.

When reports of the statue’s arrival in the town emerged, a Labour councillor warned that the move could be “asking for trouble”, suggesting it could encourage another act of expensive vandalism. A Tory opponent retorted that the town should do more to honour Britain’s first female Prime Minister: “Anything that celebrates Mrs Thatcher’s life and achievements would be most welcome in Grantham.”