Banksy work mocking surveillance destroyed

LONDON • A £1-million (S$1.8- million) mural by British street artist Banksy, which mocked government surveillance, has been destroyed during building works on the house on which it appeared in 2014, the local council said on Monday.

The piece, titled Spy Booth, depicted three men in trench coats using listening devices to tap into conversations at an actual public telephone box in Cheltenham, south-west England.

It was located just 5km from the United Kingdom government listening post GCHQ, which was the subject of a series of revelations by fugitive former United States intelligence contractor Edward Snowden.

The local council said the owner had confirmed the mural was damaged during urgent works on the end-of-terrace home, which was given protected status after the mural appeared overnight in April 2014.

"He was carrying out works to his property following an urgent works' notice issued by the council to stop further deterioration of the listed building," said council official Mark Nelson.

"We were aware of loose render on that part of the building where this was situated, but the extent and how far it would affect the mural was unknown until work progressed."

A picture on Twitter appeared to show the wall stripped back to the brickwork.

The property owner has made available pieces of the rendering on which the artwork was painted for the council to use in its investigation, said Mr Nelson.

The mural had become a tourist attraction, but was damaged when fellow graffiti artists spray-painted silver and red onto the elusive artist's design.

Mr Alex Chalk, the Conservative Member of Parliament for the town, described the destruction as "shocking news", calling the work an "admired piece of Cheltenham's artistic heritage".

"We need an urgent inquiry to get to the bottom of what happened. Whoever is responsible needs to be held to account," he said, according to the Press Association.

Banksy is renowned for his street artworks, which often use subversive or satirical imagery to tackle subjects such as war, capitalism, hypocrisy and greed.

He also left an artwork on Israel's controversial West Bank separation barrier.

The artist's identity remains shrouded in secrecy, but he is believed to have started out as a graffiti artist in the south-western city of Bristol.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 24, 2016, with the headline 'Banksy work mocking surveillance destroyed'. Print Edition | Subscribe