Australian cleaners destroy famed Banksy graffiti

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — A street-cleaning crew inadvertently painted over a stencil of a rat by world-renowned British graffiti artist Banksy, leaving officials in Australia's second largest city scrambling to explain the goof on Wednesday.

Melbourne 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.

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

"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 Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio.

Many of Banksy's artworks are created with spray-paint and stencils. He stenciled several images in Melbourne during a 2003 visit.