THE mayor of Middlesbrough has said Teessiders are proud of Captain James Cook and statues of the explorer should not be removed as part of the Black Lives Matter campaign.

A website listing controversial memorials to historic figures claims the 18th century seafarer was a "colonialist who murdered Maori people in their homeland".

But Middlesbrough's elected mayor Andy Preston stood up for the explorer and navigator, who has a statue in his home town, as well as in Great Ayton and Whitby, in North Yorkshire.

Mr Preston said: "Cook was probably the greatest ever and certainly the most successful Teessider in history and the vast majority of us are rightly proud of his achievements on his great voyages of discovery.

"Cook was a genuine working class hero who rose from being a labourer's son to the most celebrated man in Europe.

"Of course, they were very different times and I'm sure that a modern day Captain Cook would not act in the way that he did back then, when values, standards and beliefs were very different to modern thinking.

"But Teesside, and Middlesbrough in particular, rightly celebrates Cook's name and historic achievements in discovering and charting lands across great areas of the world.

"So I'm calling on all of my fellow Teesside politicians to state publicly that they would not support the whitewashing of Cook's name from the history books - and that they would be absolutely against the removal of any of the statues that celebrate his incredible achievements."

Mr Preston said he believed new information, explaining the modern context of what Cook did, could be placed alongside the statues.

"I think it would be fair to introduce an updated and accurate description of Cook's achievements but also the fact that good and bad resulted in his journeys and discoveries," he said.

In Great Ayton, parish council chairman Ron Kirk also opposed removing the statue in the village.

"Cook, for his day, was probably well-advanced," he said.

"Generally speaking, wherever he went, with regard to the native people, he appears to have been as friendly as he possibly could be.

"We feel locally, he is not associated in that way, he is associated as a navigator and a cartographer."