Council removes Saddam Hussein bench tribute from London high street

20 November 2018, 09:03 | Updated: 20 November 2018, 12:35

A plaque seemingly dedicated to former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein has been removed from a bench on a busy east London shopping street.

The tribute suddenly appeared on the seat in Wanstead High Street on Monday, reading: "In Loving Memory of Saddam Hussein, 1937-2006."

It provoked a mixture of outrage and confusion among locals and around the world after a photo of the plaque shared by journalist and Wanstead resident Victoria Richards was retweeted thousands of times.

Some of the hundreds who replied to the tweet suggested it may be a tribute to someone who shared the same name, birthday and death date as the ex-president, who was executed in Baghdad on 30 December 2006.

He was born in the village of Al-Awja, north of the capital, on 28 April 1937 - and would go on to lead a brutal regime spanning more than two decades before his capture by US troops on 13 December 2003.

The hanging - partly broadcast on state TV - came after he was found guilty of crimes against humanity by an Iraqi court regarding the killing of 148 Iraqi Shia Muslims in 1982.

Most have seen the plaque as nothing more than a prank, but it sparked anger among many Iraqis.

Among them was Sayed Hossein Qazwini, who tweeted: "Seriously?? FYI Saddam's regime killed more than 16 members of my family. He does deserve a bench though. In hell."

Ms Richards said locals had been torn over the response to the plaque.

She told Sky News: "People are shocked that it's gathered this much national attention and seem split between not wanting to give the prankster any publicity, and outrage over such a public display of insensitivity to the Iraqi community and to anyone affected by the Saddam regime.

"Residents are also arguing about whether it should be taken seriously and condemned, or seen as a lighthearted, albeit extremely bad taste, 'joke' and ignored.

"I'm half-expecting to see other plaques being put up around Wanstead bearing the names of other despots.

"I would love to know more about the prankster's motivation: was this a political act? An artistic statement? Or just a bad joke? And will we ever know?"

Usually permission would be required from the local authority to install a plaque in a public place, but Redbridge Council said none had been granted for the tribute to Hussein.

A spokesman confirmed: "We didn't give permission for this to be put up and it has been removed."