Banksy spies mural 'to be removed'

Hillingdon Times: The Banksy mural in Cheltenham The Banksy mural in Cheltenham

A Banksy mural which targets the issue of Government surveillance has been sold and will be removed from the property it was painted on, a scaffolding company has claimed.

The creation shows three 1950s-style agents, wearing brown trench coats and trilby hats, using devices to tap into conversations at a telephone box.

It appeared overnight on a street in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, just a few miles from GCHQ, where the UK's surveillance network is based.

Residents saw a group of men packing away a large white tarpaulin in Fairview Road in April, before driving off in a maintenance van.

The celebrated Bristol artist later officially confirmed the piece on a link titled Q&A on his website.

Initially it was claimed that workers from Q Scaffolding erected scaffolding around the piece on Wednesday to carry out maintenance work on the Grade II listed building.

But today, John Joyce, of Q Scaffolding, claimed his boss, street art collector Sky Grimes, had purchased the piece from the property's owner.

"The owner of Q Scaffolding, Sky Grimes, has purchased it from the owner," Mr Joyce said.

"He is going to show it in a gallery in London for a month while a specialist frame is built for the piece in his house.

"The owner of the building contacted Sky at Q, saying he had a Banksy and he was wondering how he would go about removing it and someone buying it.

"Sky is a private collector and he is not selling it on, although if somebody walked into the gallery and offered him a piece of paper with a certain number on it he might consider it.

"He negotiated with the owner and purchased it for an undisclosed sum."

Mr Joyce said invitations for the gallery, where the piece will go on show at 6pm on July 4, would be sent next week.

He would not confirm which gallery the piece would appear at, but photographs of it have already appeared on the website of Bankrobber Art Gallery in Mayfair.

Bizarrely, a spokesman for the owner told the local paper, the Gloucestershire Echo, he was unaware of any deal and the art was staying put.

But Mr Joyce said part of the deal was that Q Scaffolding would remove the piece and carry out vital repairs to the property.

"The workers we have on site are specialists, they will be there for a week taking the piece off the wall and another week or two putting everything back," he added.

He said the owner had agreed to sell the piece a week before Banksy confirmed he had painted it on his website at the beginning of this month.

Local residents and business groups in Cheltenham say the removal of the piece would be a "huge loss" to the spa town.

Michael Ratcliffe, chief executive of Cheltenham Chamber of Commerce, said: "It has been a great asset, a lot of people have been coming to the town to see it.

"If we can keep it in the town we will - we want to keep it in the town."

A spokeswoman for Cheltenham Borough Council said the owner was not required to inform the authority what was happening to the piece.

Mike Redman, director of environmental and regulatory services at the council, said it was not clear what work was being carried out at the property.

"The Council is supportive of the public's desire to keep this unique artwork on Fairview Road, but we must remember it is on a privately owned property," he said.

"Apart from working with us to get listed building or building control approvals where applicable, the property owner is legally entitled to make decisions about the artwork without informing the Council.

"We have given advice to the owner and would support him in any attempts to protect the mural, whilst not undermining any work needed to repair the render on this Grade II listed building. In the meantime, it is important to keep the area safe and we believe this is what has been arranged with the recent involvement of a scaffolding firm.

"However, at this stage we do not know the exact detail of what work is planned."

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