Berkshire

Reading Gaol: Oscar Wilde prison to be sold later this year

Oscar Wilde (1881) and his cell at Reading Prison Image copyright Getty Images/Morley von Sternberg
Image caption The prison was immortalised by Oscar Wilde's poem The Ballad of Reading Gaol, written during his two-year sentence for gross indecency

The jail where playwright Oscar Wilde was a prisoner will be put up for sale later this year, the Ministry of Justice has said.

The MoJ, which owns the Grade-II listed jail building in Reading, announced in April it intended to sell the site.

Campaigners want the prison to be preserved and turned into a theatre and arts centre.

Reading East MP Matt Rodda said he had a "positive meeting" with the justice minister about the site's future.

Mr Rodda started a petition to preserve the site and called on the government "not to sell it off to the highest bidder".

He has expressed concerns over the prison being converted into luxury flats.

Wilde, who spent two years at the jail for gross indecency between 1895 and 1897, wrote about his experience in his poem The Ballad of Reading Gaol.

Reading Borough Council said the prison was a "Mecca" for LGBT people worldwide.

Image copyright Marcus J Leith
Image caption Reading Prison was closed in 2013 and its fate has remained uncertain since

Reading jail has been derelict since 2013 and costs the government more than £250,000 a year to maintain.

Theatre Arts Reading (TAR) wants to transform the site into two theatres, creative start-up spaces, an Oscar Wilde museum and an art gallery.

Reading West MP Alok Sharma, who also supports the plan, organised a meeting between prisons minister Robert Buckland, TAR executive secretary Hilary Scott and TAR chairman Melvin Ben.

In a statement on the MP's website, Ms Scott said it was a "very useful meeting", adding the arts group looked forward to hearing "about the next steps for the site".

The MoJ has said it was working with the council to look at alternative uses for the site, including housing.

It added that it aimed to "get value for money for taxpayers".

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