Climate change protest group Extinction Rebellion Manchester has apologised to the family of war hero Neil ‘Tony’ Downes for vandalising the Droylsden building named in his honour.
The protest group also apologises publicly for the first time in an exclusive letter to the Tameside Reporter this week, expressing the group’s sorrow for the ‘hurt and distress’ caused to the family.
Guardsman Neil ‘Tony’ Downes was just 20 when he was killed on duty in Afghanistan in 2007.
The new Greater Manchester Pension Fund building in Droylsden was ultimately named in his honour, his parents running the King’s Head pub just around the corner.
The building has become a focus for protests against the fund’s investments in fossil fuels - with campaigners calling for such investments to stop.
But previously peaceful demonstrations turned ugly less than a fortnight ago when a number of anti-climate change groups gathered outside the building. During the protest, some campaigners chained themselves to the building and spray painted the slogan ‘Stop funding climate genocide’ along its length.
Four people were arrested on suspicion of aggravated trespassing, with one also arrested for causing criminal damage.
Extinction Rebellion Manchester has since claimed responsibility for the damage and has penned the letter of apology to Tony parents.
This week Sheryl and Ronnie Downes, said they were “gutted” about the graffiti and what had happened. They had been on holiday at the time and only found out about it from their son.
“We were really upset about it,” Sheryl said. “I don’t mind the protest but don’t destroy the building. They weren’t young people who did this; that’s what I can’t understand. What example are they setting?
"What upset me most of all was that my son walked into the protest with his children. He is still not over what happened to Tony. None of us are.”
Members of Extinction Rebellion have written to Sheryl and Ronnie to ‘unreservedly apologise’ for the graffiti and say they will make a donation to the Colonel’s Fund of the Grenadier Guards in Tony’s memory.
The group said one of their members was a mum with children of her own and another a former teacher who were making a stand against climate change with none realising the significance of the building.
Although the letter is signed by members giving their first names, Sheryl says she would have liked the group to have left a number or return address on the letter, so she could have replied to them.
“I’m not sure if we accept the apology,” she said. “They should have thought about all this in the first place... we were gutted.”
Extinction Rebellion wrote and apologised unreservedly to Mr and Mrs Downes following the action at Guardsman Tony Downes House on 19th July.
We wish to repeat here to the community the apology we made to Tony’s family for the hurt and distress we caused. Please be assured that our action was not intended in any way as a slight on Tony’s name and memory. We recognise the sacrifice that Tony made for his country.
We also wish to apologise for the damage done to the building. We would normally use chalk or at least an easily removable paint, but in this case an error was made.
We are a group of volunteers - mums, dads, students, pensioners, teachers, and the like - who are trying to protect future generations and the future of our earth. But, on this occasion, we got it wrong.
Grahame, Extinction Rebellion Manchester