Ben Ainslie calls postbox painter a 'legend'

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Media captionDozens of people have had their photographs taken next to a gold postbox that was painted illegally in honour of Olympic champion Ben Ainslie

Olympic gold medallist Ben Ainslie has described the man arrested for painting a postbox gold in his honour as a "legend of Lymington".

Rob Smith, 51, was arrested after painting the postbox in the Hampshire town where the gold medallist lives.

Royal Mail had chosen to paint a postbox gold in Cornwall, where Ainslie was brought up.

A Facebook campaign backing a golden postbox in Lymington has attracted more than 1,700 supporters.

Royal Mail spokesperson Val Bodden said: "Royal Mail has been delighted to mark the achievement of Team GB athletes winning gold medals at London 2012.

Image caption Rob Smith said he painted the postbox gold using two cans of car paint

"Each of these gold medal winners had a postbox painted gold in the local community with which they have a close association.

"This could be where they were born, where they grew up or where they presently live and we looked at all these factors before reaching a considered choice.

"We picked Restronguet in Cornwall as the place where Ben Ainslie grew up and where he first learned to sail."

The company previously described Mr Smith's actions as "vandalism" and said the postbox would be repainted red.

Campaigner Ian Watkins said support for the Lymington postbox was growing "at a rate of knots".

It has proved popular with people having their photo taken beside it.

"Everyone is behind it. Lymington is a small town with not many heroes - we are very proud of what Ben has achieved," he added.

When asked about the postbox at a homecoming event at the Royal Lymington Yacht Club, Ainslie said: "Obviously the police didn't really like it but it's really nice the Olympics generated that kind of excitement in the nation.

"To hear the stories of support around the nation made such a huge difference to us as competitors, it was really very, very special."

'Say thank you'

The four-time Olympic gold medallist has lived in the Hampshire costal town for 12 years and is an honorary life member of the Royal Lymington Yacht Club.

Mr Smith, who runs a bar and restaurant in the town, said he thought the decision not to paint a postbox in Lymington was "madness"

The father-of-three was arrested at the scene early on Saturday on suspicion of criminal damage and later released on bail.

"I did it because I'm a passionate sportsman, I think the Olympics have been brilliant, Ben's achievements have been outstanding," he said.

"We've got to recognise these people and say thank you."

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