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A reported "six-figure" deal to keep a Banksy mural which targets the issue of Government surveillance at its current site is nearly complete, an art dealer has claimed.
Robin Barton, from London art gallery Bankrobber, said he was approached by the owner of the Grade II listed building, on which the Spy Booth artwork is painted, after he was "shocked at the level of vitriol" following reports that the piece may be sold and removed.
The creation shows three 1950s-style agents, wearing brown trench coats and trilby hats, using devices to tap into conversations at a telephone box.
Street artist Banksy has confirmed he is behind the artwork which shows shady agents eavesdropping around a telephone box on a street in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire.
The piece appeared three miles from GCHQ, home of the Government's spying network, leading many to speculate that the artist is taking a swipe at the UK's intelligence-gathering methods.
The mural shows three 1950s-style agents, wearing brown trench coats and trilby hats, using devices to tap into conversations at a telephone box.
The Bristol artist did not officially confirm the piece at the time but claimed responsibility during a question and answer session on his website.
Banksy was asked four questions on his website, including, "Did you paint the spies in Cheltenham?" to which he replied: "Yes".
In reply to another question the artist said the worst thing about street art is: "Having to make your mistakes in public".
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A youth club that was facing closure is celebrating a potential windfall after Banksy said it could keep a mural he created nearby.Read the full story ›
The Mayor of Bristol is hopeful that Banksy's Mobile Lovers piece will be on display at the city's museum over the Easter weekend.
In a statement, George Ferguson said:
“I’m delighted pleased that Dennis, who is a good man, has made a tough judgement call and has turned over the artwork to us, via the police.
"No-one’s the bad guy here; we simply need to buy time to establish where ownership lies, what Banksy’s intentions might be, if we were to get some signals, and how best we can move forward.
“I have established with our legal and museum services that we can move ahead on this basis so that, hopefully, it will be on show for people to enjoy at the City Museum and Art Gallery over the Easter weekend. It certainly would have been a cultural crime if this artwork had been lost to the city.
“I’m also asking if Banksy could provide a limited-edition print which could be sold in aid of the club.
"In the meantime we shall be working with a local publisher to produce postcards and prints for sale in aid of Broad Plain Boys' Club. And I have asked for a collection box at the museum for them. This hopefully will represent a win-win for everyone.”
David Stinchcombe, owner of a youth project that holds the latest Banksy, hopes to raise thousands of pounds by selling it, providing funds to help it stay open.
Dozens of people have paid to view 'Mobile Lovers' at Broad Plain & Riverside Youth Project in Bristol, which needs to raise £120,000 to survive.
"I had to make a decision as to whether to allow it to stay there and come in today to find it gone or damaged, or be good for the community," he said.
"People can come and see it and if they want to put a donation into our 120 appeal they are most welcome.
"If I can make this work for our building and our appeal then, Banksy, you've done an amazing job and what a gem you are.
Mr Stinchcombe said he would seek advice as to whether to sell the piece at auction or directly to a museum or gallery.
The Mayor of Bristol said the new Banksy artwork belongs to the city council and removing it would be "stealing" as the row over the picture continues.
George Ferguson said he's "pretty sure" the removed Banksy "belongs to us" and "on the face of it would be theft".
A police officer and a PCSO were also seen at the boy's club, but a police spokesman said: "There have been no formal reports and there is no police investigation at the moment.
"We visited in an informal capacity following media and public interest. We offered advice on crime prevention and any issues which may arise from a possible sale."
The manager of the youth club who has laid claim to the latest Banksy artwork said yesterday he has received death threats after he "took an opportunity" to save his struggling youth service by removing the artwork.
Dennis Stinchcombe MBE, leader of struggling Broad Plain and Riverside Youth Project, said he had taken around 40 phone calls from angry street art fanatics.
He said: "People have been calling up and telling us we have no right to take it down, that it is public and we are stealing.
"People have even said they are going to come down here and sort us out, all sorts of nasty things to us. We have even had death threats."
He said if he hadn't taken the artwork "someone else would have and I wasn't going to let that happen".
Bristol City Council is yet to comment, and local police have not opened an investigation following the removal of the work.