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‘Huge disappointment' after Banksy artwork on Reading Prison defaced

Create Escape appeared on the wall of the former prison on March 1.

Groups in Reading have expressed “huge disappointment” after a mural by street artist Banksy on the side of a former prison was defaced with red paint.

The artwork, entitled Create Escape, appeared on the red brick wall of Reading Prison on March 1 and showed an inmate escaping lockdown using a knotted spool of paper from a typewriter.

On Tuesday, pictures emerged showing that the piece had been defaced with red paint covering the typewriter, with the phrase “Team Robbo” below.

This appears to be a reference to graffiti artist King Robbo, who was in a long-running feud with Banksy before his death in 2014.

Their rivalry is said to have begun in 2009, when Banksy painted over one of King Robbo’s tags by Regent’s Canal in Camden, London.

Councillor Jason Brock, leader of Reading Borough Council, said: “This is obviously hugely disappointing following the initial excitement in Reading recently when Banksy’s artwork appeared.

“How anyone can somehow think this is acceptable is completely beyond me, even if this is an extension of a historic feud, as is being suggested. There is understandable anger across the town today.

The typewriter was covered with red paint (Steve Parsons/PA)
The typewriter was covered with red paint (Steve Parsons/PA)

“The vacant Reading Gaol site, including the perimeter wall which Banksy’s artwork is on, is private land owned by the Ministry of Justice.

“When the original artwork appeared, the Council made contact with the Ministry of Justice to ask it to make suitable arrangements to protect the image. We will now be contacting them again to see what action it intends to take.

“I’ve seen many people supporting the idea of restoring the artwork, which I also back in principle.

“As long as the site remains in the Ministry of Justice’s ownership, however, they would need to take the lead in facilitating this.”

A spokesman for the Ministry of Justice confirmed it was “aware” that the artwork had been defaced.

Save Reading Gaol, a campaign to turn the former prison into an arts and culture hub, tweeted: “A sad morning as we learn that the Banksy mural on the side of Reading Gaol has been deliberately damaged with red paint.

“Awful news to wake up to and to realise that the failure to protect something precious to the town has left it vulnerable to destruction.”

Banksy confirmed he was behind Create Escape on March 4 in a video posted on his Instagram account.

The video featured the elusive artist stealthily executing the work in footage set to archive commentary from The Joy Of Painting with Bob Ross.

Reading Prison is renowned as the location where Oscar Wilde served two years’ hard labour for “gross indecency”.

Although the site closed to prisoners in 2013, its future is currently the focus of fierce debate.

On Monday, Reading Borough Council submitted a formal bid to the Ministry of Justice for the former prison.

The artwork appeared on March 1 (Banksy/PA)
The artwork appeared on March 1 (Banksy/PA)

Mr Brock said the bid was based on the council’s “long-term vision for a heritage and cultural-led regeneration of the vacant site”.

It followed a three-month period of exclusivity afforded to the council by the Ministry of Justice.

The details and conditions of the bid are currently “commercially confidential”, Mr Brock confirmed.

There are fears that if the bid is unsuccessful, the Grade II-listed site could be sold to property developers.

A spokesman for the Ministry of Justice said on Tuesday: “We are considering Reading Council’s bid and will respond in due course.”

The campaign to turn the site into an arts hub has won the support of Stephen Fry, Dame Judi Dench, Sir Kenneth Branagh, Natalie Dormer and Kate Winslet.

Wilde was jailed after being convicted of gross indecency in 1895 following a retrial, and later penned his final published work, The Ballad Of Reading Gaol.

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