IT is a crime that has now occurred 13 times in eight years – but whoever keeps covering one of Britain’s most controversial artworks with paint may not have totally covered their tracks this time.

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While most people were safely indoors during the fierce winds overnight on Tuesday, under the cover of darkness someone ventured out to Aldeburgh beach to splash the Scallop sculpture with paint and daub slogans such as “IT’S AN OLD TIN CAN” and “HAPPY NEW YEAR”.

The familiar writing and messages suggest the work of a repeat offender but, for the first time, whoever did it left some evidence behind at the scene – a paint pot and the screwdriver used to open it.

Hopes have now been raised that the offender who has plagued the Scallop – artist Maggi Hambling’s tribute to the composer Benjamin Britten – may finally be brought to book.

Antagonism has lingered against the artwork since it was unveiled in 2003, with opponents claiming it ruined a previously unspoilt stretch of beach. The 15ft stainless steel structure was last targeted a year ago.

Last night, the sculptor, making reference to fictitious TV sleuth Miss Marple, said: “Whoever did it may have left fingerprints on the tin so let’s hope he or she can be ‘Marpled’ out. That would be a very good thing.”

She added: “It shows a lack of imagination in response to the sculpture and in what they are writing – it’s hardly poetry.

“If I wanted graffiti on it I would have put it on myself. It’s an absurd waste of public money having it cleaned.

“One can’t help but think it’s the same perpetrator as it’s done in the same hand. It’s a huge bore and an insult to the sculpture, not to me.”

The damage was spotted by Dennis Pegg, of metalwork specialists JT Pegg & Sons, the firm behind the sculpture, as he went for an early morning run on the beach. He found the pot for magnolia “non-drip gloss” as he inspected the damage.

Workers from Peggs also recovered a screwdriver as they were cleaning the sculpture yesterday while police officers attended and took away the pot. The cost of the cleaning will be paid for by Suffolk Coastal District Council.

A council spokesman said: “This puerile act of vandalism should be condemned and we hope that the police are successful in catching the culprit, particularly as an empty paint pot was left behind.

“Scallop has become a much-admired landmark in Aldeburgh and it is stupid that seemingly one person is responsible for wasting precious police time by defacing it.”

A police spokesman said investigations would take place to see if any evidence could be gained from the pot.

Anyone with information about the vandalism is asked to call the Leiston and Aldeburgh Safer Neighbourhood Team on 101.


SCALLOP’S CONTROVERSIAL PAST

MAGGI Hambling’s Scallop sculpture began making waves in Aldeburgh before it was even built.

The sculptor said the artwork – consisting of interlocking scallop shells – needed to be positioned on the wild coastline that inspired Benjamin Britten.

She has described the work as a conservation with the sea and it is pierced with the words “I hear those voices that will not be drowned”.

But opponents said the giant structure would ruin the beach and the landscape and argued it should be placed elsewhere.

The Scallop was unveiled on the beach in November 2003 and almost immediately a campaign was launched demanding its removal.

A petition opposing the sculpture’s position raised nearly 1,000 names while one in support attracted a similar number.

However, an EADT readers’ poll saw 2,163 people vote in favour of The Scallop staying put with 738 against.

In 2004, Suffolk Coastal District Council and Aldeburgh Town Council agreed that it should not be moved and in 2006 it won the Marsh Award for the best public sculpture in Britain.

But the lingering opposition to the sculpture’s siting has seen it become a target for vandalism and in 2007 police told Aldeburgh Town Council they wanted to step up patrols and possibly use a mobile camera to deter or catch the criminals. It was last targeted on January 25 last year, with slogans including “MOVE IT” painted on the shells.

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