These amazing pictures reveal how brazen thieves tried to steal a Banksy – from INSIDE the house it is painted on.
The ‘Spybooth’ artwork has been at the centre of a bidding war since it appeared on the outer wall of an end-of-terrace house in Cheltenham, Glos., in April.
It has been boarded up to prevent vandalism and theft – but it is now believed someone has tried to remove it brick-by-brick from the inside.
Local businessman Hekmat Kaveh, who has agreed a six-figure sum to buy the artwork, was stunned to find bricks and the chimney breast removed when he visited the property.
He said: “It was a real surprise. When we realised the damage had been done we arranged to go in with the owner.
“There was a lot of damage. Brick work has been taken out all over the place. There is nothing wrong with the overall structure though.
“The council are involved to see if a crime has been committed because it’s a Grade II listed building.
“I have written to the council for their view and someone from health and safety has also got in. Structurally, they don’t see it as a big issue.”
Spybooth features three 1950s-style spies eavesdropping on a phonebox on the side of the £300,000 end-of-terrace property near the Government’s GCHQ spy base.
It appeared in April but soared in value when Banksy confirmed it was one of his pieces.
The wall was boarded up by the owner and a bidding war ensued as locals tried to raise an estimated #1million to secure it for the town.
Eventually Hekmat agreed a deal with the owner of the property, which is rented out but currently empty.
The image has been vandalised from the outside, with graffiti and holes drilled in the wall.
But the internal damage is a mystery as there were no signs of forced entry.
“It’s difficult to say how they got in,” Hekmat said. “There was no burglary, let’s put it like that. Someone had a key I’m guessing. There was no broken windows or forced entry.
“I think there is something going on in the background but I’m not really sure. There are too many people involved.”
Although happy to continue with the deal, Hekmat will need several assurances from the council and may offer substantially less money if he has to complete restoration work on the inside.
“Part of my condition [of buying it] was that the council agree a form of protection on it – some form of bullet proof glass to be put up,” he explained.
“Obviously, the only point is for people to be able to enjoy it.
“I’m really hopeful that we can come up with a glass structure that can protect it. It’s about something that looks good and brings tourism to the town.
“There have been a lot of ups and downs but I’m determined to keep at it, as long as it is not permanently damaged – I’m not looking to throw money away.”
Cheltenham Borough Council has been addressing the situation themselves as the building is listed.
A council spokesperson said: “Officers from Cheltenham Borough Council’s enforcement team entered the property under a warrant of entry recently.
“Mr Wilson, the owner’s business partner, was interviewed under caution in relation to a potential criminal offence under the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990. Evidence is being gathered and investigations continue.”
A spokesperson for Gloucestershire Police said: “A report of a burglary was received but the investigation has been completed.
“We keep an open mind as to the circumstances of the incident. As regards to any possible damage to a listed building, that is a matter for the council.”