CAMPAIGNERS have been left ‘disappointed and frustrated’ over the Ministry of Justice’s silence over the future of Reading Gaol amid calls to accept a £10m offer made by Banksy.

The street artist offered financial backing for a council bid which would preserve the building as an arts hub, rather than hand it over to private developers.

MoJ spokespeople said “the deadline for bids has passed,” but Reading Borough Council’s initial proposal was made before that date.

A spokesperson for Banksy said: “Like everyone else we’re awaiting a response from the MoJ. Even an acknowledgement they received our letters would be nice.”

Read more: How a cancelled train led to Banksy's Reading prison stunt - and a £10m pledge to buy it

The Reading Chronicle contacted the MoJ and asked how it would approach the council’s bid, submitted before the deadline, in conjunction with Banksy’s support, announced after the deadline.

We asked whether the MoJ sets the deadline for bids, whether it could extend it in light of recent updates, and if not, why not.

Our reporter requested to know who was in charge of making the final decision and when a decision would be made.

A Prison Service spokesperson responded: “The deadline for bids has passed and we are currently considering the ones we received.”

'What a coup': Readers react to Banksy’s shock £10m bid for Reading Gaol

Reading Gaol, which once incarcerated Oscar Wilde and may contain the grave of King Henry I, has been disused since 2013.

“It just doesn’t feel right that the Ministry of Justice should be the people that can deny Reading a major opportunity,” said Save Reading Gaol campaigner Linda Saul.

“The one argument that they had – that they needed to make money out of it – that’s now been countered with this amazing offer.

“It would just be so wrong if we didn’t manage to go ahead with it.”

After the MoJ put the Grade II listed building on the market in 2019, Reading Borough Council proposed turning it into a tourist attraction, but Artisan Real Estate was chosen to develop the site.

The sale fell through in November 2020 and the council submitted another bid in March 2021 with a £2.6m price tag.

That bid was rejected in May but the council said it left the proposal on the table, should the MoJ change its mind.

“We are very grateful for Banksy’s offer. The MoJ has, I believe, the ability to make something happen,” said Councillor for Culture, Heritage and Recreation Karen Rowland.

“I’ve always been quite upset that it is Reading’s history. We’ve got a king that’s potentially still buried under there, we have Oscar Wilde in our prison, this is our history.

“I would hope that the MoJ weighs seriously its potential benefits for what we hope is the city of Reading soon, from the standpoint of our economy, our culture community and our cultural heritage.”

She added: “This is really integral to who Reading is.”