Vandals target Long Man of Wilmington and paint COVID mask on its face

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An historic 72m-tall (235ft) chalk figure has had a mask painted across its face in an act branded "unacceptable".

The Long Man of Wilmington, which is located between Brighton and Eastbourne in East Sussex, is protected by law as a scheduled ancient monument.

In a statement, Sussex Police said the the South Downs landmark was "defaced by vandals".

Previously thought to be an ancient monument, there is now a mixed consensus on when the figure was created, with some historians suggesting it could have been within the past 500 years.

The defacement of the totem - which depicts a man carrying two long, white sticks - was discovered on Tuesday.

Sussex Archaeological Society own the site, which is protected under the 1882 Ancient Monuments Protection Act.

Mark Harrison of Historic England said: "Historic England is working closely with Sussex Police rural crime team to identify the offenders who have caused damage to this protected archaeological site.

"We will also be liaising with the owners in order to provide advice and guidance to restore the Long Man of Wilmington."

Sergeant Tom Carter of the Sussex Police said: "Whilst this damage may have been perpetrated for humour or some other reason, the actions that have been taken are unacceptable.

"The Long Man of Wilmington is protected by law as a Scheduled Ancient Monument for its historical significance; on top of this, the figure is well known and enjoyed by the local community and this criminal damage is an affront to those who work to maintain this heritage asset for the enjoyment of all.

"I would encourage anyone who has knowledge of the perpetrator of this crime to come forward."