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by Mick the Ram
In an astonishing act of barefaced theft and vandalism, a man has stolen a piece of street art created by the world famous Banksy.
The elusive artist had confirmed on his Instagram site that the work, which depicted three military zones painted across a red STOP road sign, was definitely his; but less than an hour later a man with an accomplice arrived at the scene in Peckham, south-east London, armed with bolt-cutters and proceeded to remove the sign, in full view of onlookers.
Banksy’s followers have widely interpreted the work as his message for a ceasefire in Gaza. Early valuations placed it anywhere between £250,000 and £500,000.
The incident was filmed and shared on social media many times over and a short time later the Metropolitan Police confirmed that a 23-year-old man had been arrested on suspicion of theft and criminal damage and he remains in custody as investigations continue.
Banksy’s works have previously sold for millions of pounds at auction.
Theft within 30 mins of clarification
The brilliant street artist confirmed in a post at midday on Saturday 23 December, that it was indeed his work and that message itself has already attracted more than one million likes on Instagram. Streams of people had descended on the area in Peckham to take photos, when at around 12.30pm two men turned up and approached the sign.
One had with him a hire bike, which he held steady whilst the second man climbed on its saddle and reached up balancing precariously and using bolt cutters that he had brought with him, proceeded to release it from its frame before wrenching it off the post. He then simply turned and trotted off down the street.
Dumb and dumber
Incredibly neither men made even the slightest attempt to hide their faces, fully aware that their criminal behaviour was being recorded my multiple witnesses. They either were so brazen and arrogant that they believed they could get away with it, or possibly more likely, totally unaware of the significance of their actions.
Onlookers who were at the scene when the theft took place described how people were shouting for the man to stop, but said he just carried on. When he had removed it he dropped the bolt-cutters, seemingly oblivious to everyone around him.
One of the eye-witnesses – Ed Damon, who lives close by, said he had actually spotted Banksy erecting the art work at around 7am that morning. The 45-year-old was out on an early morning run when he saw a man who he described as being in his forties with greying hair, stood upon a pair of steps at the sign.
He explained: “I thought it was a bit strange but the guy did not hang around, once it was up, he just ran across the road, I did not see where he went. I took a photo to show my friends and thought nothing more, but now I realise it must have been Banksy.”
Plea for its return prior to arrest
The local council at Southwark were desperate for the sign to be returned. Deputy leader Jasmine Ali said: “We are not just talking about a street sign here, it is a work of art which was put there for the community to enjoy Banksy’s brilliant work.”
It did not take too long to track down the culprit and he was immediately taken into custody, although the Met have not released his name. They also confirmed that a replacement sign had been put up by the local authority to avoid endangering road users.
Street art expert Ulrich Blanché, who is based at Heidelberg University in Germany, believes the installation’s location – close to a funeral directors, along with the military Reapers (drones) – suggests a critique of the global arms trade.
Another gallery owner, John Brandler, whose Essex gallery sells Banksy’s works, believes the work could be worth up to £500,000. “It could easily be higher than that actually, because the media attention it has now received will probably make it more valuable.”
Local sees opportunity
Later in the afternoon, in response to the developing situation, a local street artist placed her own reproduction of the missing Banksy artwork at the very same location, explaining that in her eyes art is for everyone; but also probably recognising an opportunity for some very good publicity for herself.