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Last Updated: Saturday, 11 March 2006, 10:35 GMT
Churchill sculpture sparks uproar
MP Dr Ian Gibson with the statue of Sir Winston Churchill
MP Dr Ian Gibson said critics have 'misinterpreted' the statue
A mental health charity has defended a statue it commissioned of Sir Winston Churchill in a straitjacket.

The statue has been criticised as "absurd and pathetic" by his grandson, Tory MP Nicholas Soames.

Charity Rethink commissioned the 9ft high sculpture, unveiled in Norwich, to highlight the stigma of mental health.

Rethink said the image of Churchill - who suffered bouts of depression - was designed to "portray a more positive image of people with mental illness".

I would question whether his depression was ever really a straitjacket for him
Allen Packwood, Churchill Archives Centre

Rethink director of campaigns Paul Corry said Churchill was often used by professional counsellors when talking about depression.

"We did not intend the statue to be offensive in any way," he added.

"The message we want to portray is that it is possible to recover from mental illness and overcome it and be successful - because Churchill is an example of someone who was able to do that.

"We are not intending to undermine Churchill or denigrate the efforts of anyone involved in the Second World War in any way whatsoever.

Allen Packwood, director of the Churchill Archives Centre, said while he could understand the reasons for putting up the statue, he disagreed with the portrayal of Churchill.

"It does highlight the fact that even the most famous individuals, the most iconic, are human, do suffer from human frailties ... and I think it is quite right that that does not diminish him, it heightens his achievements," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

"What I would question is whether his depression was ever really a straitjacket for him," he added.

He said he did not believe the former prime minister - who liked being in control of his image and being depicted as strong - would have liked the sculpture.

I think this illustrates quite positively that Winston Churchill, despite any problem he may have had with his mental health, was able to carry out his functions
Norwich North MP Dr Ian Gibson

But Norwich North MP Dr Ian Gibson disagreed, saying Churchill himself acknowledged his depressive periods.

"He does record that he has bad days and that he was in a straitjacket," he told the programme.

"I think this illustrates quite positively that Winston Churchill, despite any problem he may have had with his mental health, was able to carry out his functions," he said.

Commenting on the statue, Mr Soames MP said he was sure the mental health charity behind the project was perfectly "sensible," but the idea of showing Winston Churchill who suffered from depression wearing a straitjacket was "appalling and a pity," but would not harm his grandfather's memory.

'Publicity paying off'

Peter Threadkell of the Norwich branch of the Royal British Legion reportedly told the Daily Express paper it was "disrespectful".

"To show him in this way insults his memory," he said

Mr Gibson said he felt the critics has "misinterpreted" the idea behind the statue.

"I think a lot of people will disagree with Mr Soames, although I see some have agreed with him. I think they have misinterpreted what is happening here," he said.

"The publicity itself is paying off. The campaign is gaining a lot of publicity from this statue."

The glass fibre and bronze sculpture has been erected in Norwich city centre and will remain until the end of March.

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