Is Banksy’s Iconic ‘Spy Booth’ Mural Lost Forever?

The mural gained listed status last year.

Spy Booth, as seen on April 14, 2014 in Gloucestershire, England. Photo: Matt Cardy/ Getty Images.

A Banksy artwork has been removed from the wall of the Cheltenham home that served as a canvas for the enigmatic street artist in 2014.

The artwork in question, titled Spy Booth, saw Banksy post three stenciled government spies, straight out of a film noir set, around an existing telephone booth on the side of the Cheltenham property. Permanently perched around the phone box wielding 1950s surveillance equipment, the trench coated trio were set to forever listen in on conversations within. Or at least they were, before the removal of the valuable mural.

Spy Booth was a demonstrably political work, appearing just a stone’s throw away from the British Government Communications Headquarters a year after former NSA contractor and notorious whistle-blower Edward Snowden exposed the British intelligence and security organization for mining online and telephone data through the Tempora programme.

The former site of the artwork, now a mess of scaffolding and rubble, was plagued with controversy since Spy Booth’s erection, with value estimates for the property oscillating due to the dilapidated state of the building and the artwork’s subjection to vandalism on several occasions. In January, the house was put up for sale at a fraction of original estimates due to the building’s state of disrepair and the difficulty the protected work had posed for refurbishment.

The removal of the work will come as a devastating blow to the Cheltenham residents who have campaigned tirelessly to protect the artwork over the past couple of years and had thought the mural was safe thanks to a decision by Cheltenham Borough Council last year, which granted the artwork retrospective planning permission and elevated the building to listed status.

That said, all hope is not lost for the controversial work beloved by Cheltenham. The BBC reported this morning that the absence of paint on the pieces of rubble surrounding the mural’s former location could indicate that the work has been removed rather than destroyed and Mark Nelson, enforcement manager for Cheltenham Borough Council has since confirmed this, saying,

“We have met with the owner of 159 Fairview Road and can confirm that he was carrying out works to his property following an ‘urgent works notice’ issued by the council to stop further deterioration of the listed building, make it weatherproof and secure the safety of the public by removing the risk of falling render.

“We have endeavoured to protect the Banksy as much as possible and to this end the notice required the owner to have due regard for the Banksy mural whilst works were being undertaken. We were aware of loose render on that part of the building where this was situated but the extent and how far it would affect the mural was unknown until work progressed.”

He went on to explain that the property owner has left pieces of the render with attached Banksy Spy Booth mural on it with the council whilst investigations are continuing and the council has advised the public against removing any further pieces of the mural from the location warning that such action may constitute a criminal offence, but was unable to say what further action will be taken at this time. The extent of the damage done and whether or not the mural will be returned to its home at 159 Fairview Road is as yet unknown.

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