South West Wales

Brunel statue recovery hope fades in Neyland

The empty plinth and the statue that was stolen
Image caption The empty plinth and the statue of Brunel that was stolen

People in Neyland are losing hope of ever seeing their statue of Isambard Kingdom Brunel again after it was stolen from its plinth in August.

The 8ft (2.4m) bronze sculpture of the Victorian engineer was unveiled by Prince Charles in July 1999, after the town spent seven years raising £30,000 towards it.

Two men were arrested but released without charge. Police say investigations are continuing.

Anita Williams from Neyland's Brunel Committee said: "I suppose once it's melted down that's it isn't it.

"We'd never have the money again."

The Brunel statue was the final work of the late sculptor Robert Thomas, who died just weeks before the piece was unveiled.

His son Ceri Thomas, an artist based in Swansea, remembers the five years of work his father put into the piece.

"He spent two or three years researching it, travelling around to locations where Brunel had worked, or where there were pieces of machinery, designs or even clothing, to really get a feeling of the man.

"And then on top of that he'd be reading all the published material he could, and he went into archives and museums as well.

"Brunel was an inspirational figure, so my father saw this as a major project."

The theft came three weeks after an 1899 statue of a boy, Joyance, by Victorian sculptor Sir William Goscombe John was stolen from the water fountain in Thompson's Park, Cardiff.

St Clears sculptor David Petersen believes the value of pieces like the Brunel statue on the scrap metal market is relatively small.

"That was less than half a ton of bronze. You're lucky if you get a thousand pounds for your efforts. But, what have you done?

"I think it was close on being the heart of Neyland, and when you rip out the heart of a community, that hurts."

"Double whammy"

Ceri Thomas said the theft has been particularly painful for his family.

"It's an emotional thing to have a piece that's taken years to create plucked away from you, but because it was the last piece my father made, it was a double whammy."

"We just don't know, is it going to reappear or not?"

Mrs Williams said people in Neyland are losing hope of getting the statue back.

"It's so sad. We were so proud of it. It was such a beautiful statue.

"The Great Western Railway put Neyland on the map. This meant a lot to us, and it did bring people into Neyland. Holidaymakers came in their droves to have their photographs taken there."

Anyone with information is asked to contact Milford Haven CID on 101 or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555111.

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