Man tried to 'kill' Banksy artwork after hearing it could be moved out of Port Talbot

The Season's Greetings artwork appeared on a Port Talbot garage in December 2018.

A man tried to break into a Port Talbot gallery to destroy a Banksy artwork inside it after hearing the piece could be moved to England, a court has been told.

Michael Thomas, 42, attempted to gain access to the exhibition space last November by smashing the windows. He then planned to spray the street-art with white paint.

Swansea Crown Court also heard how Mr Thomas could be heard shouting, "It is for us. They are trying to take it away. Some rich man has it," as he hammered on the glass.

The artwork by Bristol artist Bansky - entitled Season's Greetings - appeared overnight on the wall of a garage in Port Talbot in December 2018. The piece was bought by a collector from Essex, who confirmed they would be moving it from its current home in south Wales by January of this year.

Amid rising security costs and concerns for the future of the artwork, the Welsh Government funded its delicate transfer to Ty’r Orsaf.

Sian Cutter, prosecuting, said the incident happened around 5:30am on November 26 last year at the Ty'r Orsaf building in the centre of Port Talbot, where the artwork was being housed at the time.

Ms Cutter said people living nearby were woken by the sounds of shouting and loud banging. They reported seeing a man shattering windows on the ground floor of the building.

The hammering went on for a number of minutes, with the defendant heard shouting that he was going to spray paint on the art. The court was also told that Mr Thomas was heard saying, "It's the only thing in Port Talbot and they are going to take it away" as well as, "I'm going to kill it."

The prosecution said he then left the scene when challenged by neighbours who told him he was disturbing their children.

Miss Cutter said later that same day, Mr Thomas contacted the police to tell them what he had done, explaining that he had acted in anger and decided to destroy the Banksy piece so that it would not leave the town.

Later on, the 42-year-old claimed he had found out about plans to move the artwork away from the town on social media and had wanted to deface it so no one else could have it. He added that the fact he had been drinking on the night in question "might have made it worse".

Mr Thomas, of Mayfield Road, Port Talbot, had previously pleaded guilty to attempted burglary with intent to commit criminal damage and to criminal damage. He has five previous convictions for nine offences including for criminal damage, and assaulting police officers.

Season's Greetings appeared on the wall of a garage in the Taibach area of Port Talbot just before Christmas 2018. The owner of the garage, Ian Lewis, first found out about the painting's existence when he saw people talking about it on social media.

The cost of repairing the damage to the Ty'r Orsaf building is put at £1,058.

The garage became an overnight tourist attraction, with crowds of people making the journey to the backstreet lockup to get a glimpse of Wales' only confirmed Banksy original. Fences and a screen were soon erected to protect the art while its future was decided.The painting was subsequently bought by Essex-based art dealer John Brandler for an undisclosed six-figure sum. In May 2019 it was moved to an empty retail unit in the Ty'r Orsaf building in the centre of Port Talbot under a three-year agreement with Neath Port Talbot Council.

At the time, Mr Brandler said he hoped it would become the centre-piece of a major street-art gallery in Port Talbot but just weeks later he changed his mind about the project. The art dealer blamed the council while the local authority said it had been doing all it could to make the project happen.

Mr Thomas' legal representation, Jon Tarrant, described it as an "unusual case" where the defendant was not motivated by criminal intent but more by way of protest. Mr Tarrant drew parallels between this element of anarchy and Banksy himself.

He said it was clear from pre-sentence reports that there were mental health and alcohol issues. He emphasising that Mr Thomas was a suitable candidate for rehabilitation in the community.

Owner Mr Brandler (above) previously said the council told him the art needed to be removed by 14 January 2022, following a temporary loan.

Judge Geraint Walters said while the news that the artwork was being relocated had caused frustration in the town, most people would not have reacted in the "bizarre" way the defendant had. He said it was clear Mr Thomas had "profound and complex" mental health issues that were largely going untreated.

Had Mr Thomas succeeded in getting inside the gallery and damaging the art, the judge warned Mr Thomas would be most likely be facing an immediate jail term.

Mr Thomas instead has been sentenced to 14 months in prison suspended for two years. This includes a discount for his guilty pleas. He was also ordered to complete a rehabilitation course as well as have treatment for his mental health and alcohol use.

On top of this, the 42-year-old must now abide by a nightly curfew for the next 12 weeks and must pay Neath Port Talbot Council a total of £1,058 in compensation through monthly installments.