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Who is stealing Oscar Wilde's cigarette?

PUBLISHED: 08:34 11 December 2007 | UPDATED: 18:33 26 February 2010

YOU can only imagine what Oscar Wilde would say if someone kept stealing his cigarette.

In today's anti-smoking climate, it seems even the literary great is being reprimanded for his fondness of the habit.

YOU can only imagine what Oscar Wilde would say if someone kept stealing his cigarette.

In today's anti-smoking climate, it seems even the literary great is being reprimanded for his fondness of the habit.

Suffolk artist Maggi Hambling's sculpture of the Irish poet, playwright and author in London has been targeted three times by vandals who have sawn off the cigarette he holds.

Hambling, who lives near the Suffolk coast, has said she will not replace the cigarette for a fourth time until Westminster City Council installs CCTV to ensure it is protected.

But the council has now said it cannot justify spending money on security cameras because there is not a “serious problem” with vandalism in the area.

The statue, A Conversation with Oscar Wilde, stands behind Trafalgar Square and is the only public monument to Oscar Wilde in Great Britain.

Maggi, whose Scallop sculpture on Aldeburgh beach has suffered vandalism in the past, said she was disappointed at Westminster City Council's persistent refusal to install CCTV.

“I do not see any other way of preventing the vandalism to the statue,” she said.

“The way Oscar Wilde held his cigarette completes the sculpture as a piece of work. It's vitally necessary and very seldom was he seen without a cigarette. It's very much part of the portrait of Wilde.

“It's very sad indeed if someone thinks a sculpture of someone from the past must be crucified like this because of the anti-smoking fanatics about.

“Are people going to start airbrushing Winston Churchill's cigars or Humphrey Bogart's cigarettes?

“The first bronze cigarette was sawn through. Sam Pegg of Aldeburgh made a steel cigarette and then that was sawn through in the dead of night.

“Finally, we replaced that with a hardened steel cigarette of the kind of steel used in the centre of a lock and you can imagine how hard that was. The vandals took two nights to saw through this.

“My view and Oscar Wilde's grandson's view is until a camera is installed there is very little point in replacing the cigarette for the fourth time.”

Maggi said £25,000 was given to the council for the future care of the statue once it was presented.

“I wonder if they have lost the money?” she asked.

“It's extraordinary. When someone vandalises the Scallop sculpture, Suffolk Coastal is very quick to restore it to proper condition.”

Robert Davis, cabinet member for planning at Westminster City Council, said he was also disappointed with the removal of the cigarette by vandals.

“This was a very unfortunate result of repeated and senseless vandalism to the UK's only public monument to Oscar Wilde,” he said.

“Two years ago the statue's creator, artist Maggi Hambling, chose to not to replace the cigarette after vandals had removed or damaged it on three previous occasions, unless CCTV was installed.

“Westminster Council investigated Ms Hambling's request but unfortunately we could not justify such high expenditure as there is not a serious problem of vandalism in the area.

“The council values each of the 40 unique statues and monuments that colour the public highways of Westminster and we work hard to ensure they are in an excellent condition.

“We currently spend around £110,000 a year maintaining these historic and beautiful works of art around the City - including cleaning the Oscar Wilde statue four times a year.

“We have since written to Ms Hambling and Merlin Holland (Oscar Wilde's grandson) to find a suitable solution to this problem.”

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