A man tried to destroy a Banksy mural in Port Talbot before it was set to be moved to England, a court has heard.
Banksy’s ‘Season’s Greetings’ work appeared on a steel worker’s garage in the Welsh town back in December 2018, and attracted an estimated 20,000 visitors in the first month after a temporary structure was put up around the artwork by Neath Port Talbot council.
The mural was then sold to art collector John Brandler in January 2019 for a reported £500,000. Brandler initially said that he intended for ‘Season’s Greetings’ to remain on display in Port Talbot for “a minimum of two to three years”.
Back in November, however, it was announced that the mural would be leaving Port Talbot this month to go on exhibition in Peterborough, with Brandler claiming that the decision to remove it from the town had been “forced upon him” by the council.
Swansea Crown Court heard this week that 42-year-old local resident Michael Thomas tried to break into a building on November 26 – days after the news of the planned departure of ‘Season’s Greetings’ – with the aim of destroying the Banksy artwork with white paint (via BBC News).
The court heard that Thomas was angry the piece had been sold to a Banksy fan in London, and that neighbours called police after they heard him breaking a window in the early hours of November 26.
“Witnesses heard him saying, ‘It’s the only thing in Port Talbot and they are taking it away’,” prosecutor Sian Cotter said. “Thomas intended to destroy the painting so no-one else could have it.
“A couple and their five-year-old child heard the defendant shouting, ‘It’s for us. They’re taking it away, some rich man has it’. Another witness heard Thomas shouting, ‘I’m going to kill it’,” the court heard.
Cotter added that Thomas turned himself in to police “to say he’d committed the damage in anger because he didn’t want the painting to leave Port Talbot”.
“He said the work was being moved to England and that made him angry, so he decided to destroy it.”
Jonathan Tarrant, defending Thomas, said that his client’s acts were more in protest than of criminal intent. He added that it was unlikely that Thomas would re-offend.
Thomas was given a 14-month suspended prison sentence, suspended for two years, after admitting attempted burglary and criminal damage. He was also ordered to pay £1,058 compensation and has to wear an electronic tag for 12 weeks.
“There was an intention to move the Banksy artwork out of Port Talbot to the London area, and that angered you,” Judge Geraint Walters told Thomas.
“It may well be that it was not Banksy’s intention that the painting should ever leave Port Talbot. I am aware the decision to remove the work has caused consternation in some quarters.”
He added: “This work does now belong to an individual who has had to pay for it. The commercial reality is that it is a work of art of great value and now it’s in private ownership.”
Last month, Banksy pledged to raise millions in order to buy Reading Prison so that it can be turned into an arts venue.