For a poster advertising a primary school parents’ meeting, it is certainly unusual.
Using models, it depicts scientist Charles Darwin surrounded by an angry mob wielding flaming torches and makeshift weapons.
According to the school governor who created it, City executive David Moyle, it is a satirical joke about pushy middle-class parents demanding higher standards.
Yet when black headmistress Shirley Patterson saw it, she believed it represented her surrounded by white parents.
She reportedly compared it to a scene from Mississippi Burning, a film about the Ku Klux Klan’s racist lynchings, saying it left her ‘fearing for her and her family’s safety’.
She called the police, claiming harassment. Then a council inquiry spent weeks determining the race of the Charles Darwin figure. Now Mr Moyle has been suspended from the governing body of Goodrich primary school in fashionable East Dulwich, south-east London, and is considering withdrawing his two younger children.
Although the police realised Darwin was white, and said no crime had been committed, Southwark council insisted it had ‘appropriately’ investigated the ‘deeply disturbing’ poster.
The Labour authority refused to reveal details of its inquiry – which involved half a dozen officers at a time when 500 jobs are set to be cut.
And it will not discuss how a model of a white, bearded, Victorian scientist could be confused with a black 21st century headmistress.
But a friend of Mr Moyle said: ‘Southwark council summoned David for a meeting and told him the posters amounted to harassment.
‘A two-week investigation was carried out into the toy Charles Darwin’s ethnicity, before it was ruled “indeterminable”.
‘But the council inquiry, carried out by a whole team of officers including the assistant director of access, inclusion and education, Pauline Armour, ruled the poster was “an image of violence and intimidation”, and “deeply disturbing and damaging to children”.’
Last night Mr Moyle, who is also a volunteer cricket coach at the school, said: ‘The poster and subsequent events have taken up way too much of my time this year. I was very surprised and disappointed that the school executive tried to criminalise me over it, especially in light of the amount of time my wife and I have given to Goodrich over the last eight years.
‘If there was a perceived problem with the image I would have thought they could have spoken directly to me about it.
‘And as an ardent supporter of local government, I was taken aback by the reaction of the council, who not only fully endorsed the disproportionate reaction of the school management, but also contrived additional charges about the poster that had no relation at all to the original complaint.
‘The only people involved who have applied common sense to this incident are the police and the parents of the school, and to them I am grateful.’
The friend added: ‘David is really angry. He feels he can’t have his children in a school where the headmistress tried to have him arrested. The posters were supposed to be poking fun at parents, representing them as a peasants’ revolt.
‘And the parents, teachers and police saw nothing racist about it. But once the council got involved it escalated.’
Mrs Patterson, 53, replaced a popular long-term headmaster of Goodrich school when he retired in 2007. Ofsted inspectors rated the school, which has around 700 pupils aged three to 11, a lowly ‘satisfactory’ in 2008.
In January, newly-elected parent governor Mr Moyle, who lives nearby in a £650,000 Victorian house with wife Lisa, a former treasurer of the parents’ association, and their sons aged 12 and ten and daughter of eight, was asked to advertise a meeting.
He found the image on a website mocking ‘creationists’ angered by Darwin’s theory of evolution, and stuck posters around the school.
The next week he was told Mrs Patterson had complained to the National Union of Teachers.
The friend said: ‘Mrs Patterson was previously at a school where lots of children come from migrant families and English is not their first language.
‘But East Dulwich is quite gentrified, and a lot of middle-class parents here want schools that rival prep schools.
‘They want academic excellence.
‘She feels everyone is against her and has over-reacted to a poster she thought symbolised her.’
Mrs Patterson, who lives with her daughter in a £250,000 flat in Camberwell two miles from the school, refused to comment.