Rats! That was our Banksy

MELBOURNE - A Melbourne street-cleaning crew inadvertently painted over a stencil of a rat by world-renowned British graffiti artist Banksy, leaving officials scrambling to explain the gaffe yesterday.

Deputy Lord Mayor Susan Riley sent the cleaners to Hosier Lane last week after residents complained about the dirty condition of the alley, a tourist attraction known for its elaborate street art.

In the process, they painted over a stencil of a parachuting rat by Banksy, a recluse who refuses to reveal his real name and is known as one of the world's best graffiti artists. He did the piece during a 2003 visit.

The crew was instructed to remove all graffiti from unapproved street art sites - which included the location of Banksy's goggle-wearing rat, said City of Melbourne chief executive Kathy Alexander.

"Unfortunately, the contractors were not made aware by us that that was an important piece and unfortunately that means the piece is gone," Alexander told ABC radio.

- AP

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