CLACTON-ON-SEA (AFP) - Street cleaners in Britain may have painted over artwork worth a fortune - a mural by Banksy showing pigeons picking on an African migrant bird in a satire on the rise of anti-immigration sentiment.
The mural went up in recent days in Clacton, a seaside town holding a closely-watched vote next week that could hand the populist United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) its first seat in parliament.
Painted on the side of a boathouse by the sea, it shows five grey pigeons holding placards saying "Migrants Not Welcome", "Go Back to Africa" and "Keep Off Our Worms" in front of an exotic-looking and much smaller green-breasted bird.
The smudge left by the clean-up was visible on Wednesday and a graffiti "tag" signature had already been spray-painted on top.
"We are a family-friendly seafront resort who welcome all our visitors and would not want anyone to be offended by anything painted on any of our buildings," Nigel Brown, a spokesman for the Tendring District Council local authority, wrote in an email.
"We also have a policy to remove graffiti within 48 hours.
"The staff did not realise it was by Banksy but that should not make a difference. If a youngster from the area had painted the same thing on the wall and it was removed no one would be making a fuss," Brown said.
"We completely appreciate that it is irony and political satire but not everyone would appreciate it," he said.
UKIP has repeatedly defended itself against accusations of racism and says that it is opposed to mass immigration.
Banksy, who chooses to remain anonymous, posted pictures of the work on his website earlier.
His murals have been cut down from walls and sold in the past.
A struggling British youth club in August sold a work by Banksy to a collector for £403,000 (S$825,000).
That piece - "Mobile Lovers" - which shows a couple embracing while gazing at their phones, was attached to a piece of wood and screwed onto the wall, so youth club members were able to remove it with a crowbar and sell it.