‘Disgusted’ families walk out of Guy Fawkes night event

‘Disgusted’ families walk out of Guy Fawkes night event after organisers put Union Flag on bonfire and set it ablaze

  • Flag was at top of a large bonfire at the Thorner Bonfire and Fireworks Festival 
  • Display took place outside West Yorkshire village’s Victory Hall on Saturday
  • Group of spectators were outraged at flag burning and decided to leave display
  • But organisers say: ‘It is perfectly suitable to burn a damaged Union Jack’ 
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This is the shocking moment a Union Flag was set on fire during a bonfire display.

The flag was at the top of a large bonfire at the Thorner Bonfire and Fireworks Festival outside the West Yorkshire village’s Victory Hall on Saturday.

A group of spectators in the field, about seven miles north east of Leeds, were outraged when they saw the flag go up in flames and decided to leave the display. 

But the organisers stood by their decision, saying it was ‘perfectly suitable to burn a damaged Union Jack’ – which was on top of a pole with the village’s name.

The flag was on top of a large bonfire at the Thorner Bonfire and Fireworks Festival near Leeds

One told Leeds Live: ‘They had the flag on the top, with two Guy Fawkes underneath and you could hear people saying ‘what are they going to do with the flag?’

‘We just watched it burn for a bit and my parents were disgusted. Well, it wasn’t burning, more melting with the fabric, and we just turned around and walked out.

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‘As we were walking out people were saying ‘aren’t they taking the flag down it?’ It was terrible.’ 

Some critics pointed out the insensitivity of burning the Union Flag so close to Remembrance Sunday, but it was not believed to be a protest by the organisers.  

The flag is pictured on the bonfire display before it went up in flames on Saturday night

What is the law on burning Union Flags?

Burning a Union Flag in England and Wales is not illegal, but could constitute an offence that incites violence depending on the context.

There was a plan among some MPs in 2006 to criminalise flag burning, but it has so far been successfully opposed by human rights groups.

The Flag Institute, a London-based documentation centre for flags and flag information, advises people on the ‘proper disposal of flags’.

It says: ‘When a flag becomes tattered or faded and is no longer in a suitable condition for use, it should be destroyed in a dignified way, for example by burning, tearing or cutting into strips that no longer resemble the original flag.’

Mark James said on Facebook: ‘Having proudly served my Queen and country I cannot condone in any way what happened.

‘I don’t believe anything disrespectful was meant by it but it was very disrespectful thing to do and I’m sure with hindsight a different approach would have been taken.

‘The disposal of a flag is to be done with dignity and respect, this was not the case.’

Lesley McKinney added: ‘Why do it at a public event so close to Remembrance Sunday?’

Lynne Pearson said: It’s something you don’t do. Respect your flag, respect your country, in good times or in bad, however you see things.’

And Debra Falk joked: ‘Brilliant display but was the burning of the Union Jack some ode to Brexit?’ 

Is it the Union Jack, or the Union Flag?

The Union Jack was first introduced in 1606 as the ‘British flag’ to be flown at the main masthead of all ships from England and Scotland.

In the 1600s the flag was referred to as ‘the Jack’, ‘Jack flag’, ‘the King’s Jack’ and ‘His Majesty’s Jack’.

As for what it should be called in what situation nowadays, the Flag Institute says: ‘It is often stated that the Union Flag should only be described as the Union Jack when flown in the bows of a warship, but this is a relatively recent idea.

‘From early in its life the Admiralty itself frequently referred to the flag as the Union Jack, whatever its use, and in 1902 an Admiralty Circular announced that ‘Their Lordships had decided that either name could be used officially’.

‘Such use was given Parliamentary approval in 1908 when it was stated that ‘the Union Jack should be regarded as the National flag’.’

An upside-down Union Jack is traditionally used as a coded distress signal by British forces.

But Charlotte Adamowicz said: ‘This is so upsetting for all the wonderful people who organise this amazing event for our village, I really hope it won’t put them off doing the event again.

‘What people are failing to notice is that every year we’ve burnt a sign that says Thorner – does this mean we all hate our village and want to burn it down? 

‘This upset makes no logical sense. Once again a huge thank you to all involved in putting on such a fantastic event.’

And Alex Foster added: ‘Perhaps the eagle eyes should have seen that the flag was knackered and therefore in line with tradition. The flag was disposed of in a fitting manner; i.e. burned.’

But the display organisers stood by their decision to burn the flag.

A spokesman told Leeds Live: ‘It (the fall out) has all been dealt with. The Union Jack was damaged and it is perfectly suitable to burn a damaged Union Jack.’

MailOnline has contacted the organisers for further explanation. 

The Flag Institute suggests that when any flag is no longer in a suitable condition for use, it should be ‘destroyed in a dignified way’, such as burning or cutting it up. 

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