DARLINGTON’S MP has insisted his attempts to clean graffiti from a defaced statue of Winston Churchill were genuine after a backlash from some claiming it was a publicity stunt.

Peter Gibson told The Northern Echo on Monday that he and a group of Conservative colleagues visited the Churchill statue in London to help clean it after it was defaced during last weekend’s Black Lives Matter protests.

Photographs appeared to show Mr Gibson scrubbing graffiti from the statue’s plinth, but scores of people slammed the picture on social media, branding it a ‘cheap political stunt’ and a staged photo opportunity.

Others shared a photo of a black man - allegedly called Winston – claiming that he was the one who actually cleaned the statue before Conservative MPs posed in front of it.

The Northern Echo:

Tweets were widely shared showing a black man cleaning the statue before MPs, including Peter Gibson, posed in front of it

Today, Mr Gibson says he and his colleagues had genuinely started cleaning the statue but stepped aside when they were told that professionals were on their way.

He said: “Many have come forward to assist clean up the vandalism to the monument to one of our greatest Britons.

“Members of the public made attempts on Sunday evening and on Monday morning.

“A group of Conservative MPs including myself agreed to meet up and make attempts ourselves, when we returned to Westminster on Monday.

“We arrived with cleaning fluid, sponges and brushes. Shortly after making a start we were advised that professional cleaners were arriving imminently at which point we stepped aside.”

Mr Gibson said that the graffiti is proving hard to shift ‘despite many efforts’ and supplied a further photo taken this morning which still shows the scrawled slogan on the plinth, albeit faded.

The Northern Echo:

The statue pictured this morning (Wednesday, June 10)

Mr Gibson said: “Our community recently demonstrated its commemoration of the 75th anniversary of Victory in Europe, when Churchill led our nation, and I believe the people of Darlington will be appalled at this damage and will recognise that such criminal damage has no place in a peaceful protect.

“Taking steps to clean up our community is something I feel strongly about as those people of Darlington who have seen me participate in litter picks right across our town will recognise.

“I have been encouraged by the many messages of thanks and support for the attempts to clean the statue plinth I have received from Darlington and around the country.”