- Written by Thomas Mackintosh and Noor Nanji
- BBC News
The Metropolitan Police have launched an investigation after a banner bearing a work by the elusive artist Banksy was removed from a south London street.
The street art piece – a red stop sign with three military drones on it – was unveiled on the corner of Commercial Road in Peckham on Friday.
But within an hour, a man removed it using bolt cutters while witnesses took photos.
The police are treating it as a robbery. Officers have not yet made any arrests.
One of the gallery owners told the BBC that the artwork could be worth up to 500,000 pounds.
Southwark councilor Yasmin Ali said she had every confidence they would get it back.
“We're not just talking about a street sign here, it's a work of art that was put there for the community. It's street art and it's for the people,” she said.
The Met said a new traffic signal had been put in place to avoid endangering road users.
A spokesperson added: “We are aware of the video shared showing the banner being removed
“Anyone who may have information about the incident or the whereabouts of the sign should contact police.”
One man described on Friday how he “watched in awe” as the banner was removed at around 12:30 GMT.
Alex, 26, said no one knew what to do and “we watched it happen.”
One man was holding a banana, holding a Lime bike steady for another, who reached up and cut the artwork free.
He snatched it from the pole, then ran down the street and disappeared from sight.
Matthew Auden, managing director of Nearby Funeral Directors, said: “It was absolutely wonderful to see a piece of art by a famous street artist like Banksy outside our Camberwell branch.
He said it was a shame he was no longer there.
While the incident was reported to the Metropolitan Police, art gallery owner John Brandler questioned whether it was a “publicity stunt”.
He added: “I think if it went to auction it would be worth between £250,000 and £500,000.
“It could easily be higher. The media attention makes it more valuable.”
“If I'm being sarcastic, I think he did it as a Christmas present for someone.”
Banksy's Instagram followers widely interpreted his latest work as calling for a ceasefire in the Gaza Strip after he confirmed its validity on his social media.
Professor Paul Gough, vice-chancellor of the University of the Arts Bournemouth, explained that Banksy's work “always thrives on this ambiguity”.
“Art is rarely put there by accident,” Professor Goff said.
“There are about 40,000 comments on his Instagram account – and yet he doesn't follow anyone – and you get a whole range of interpretations.”
'It's hard to find a buyer'
Ulrich Blanch, a street art expert at Heidelberg University, said Banksy's thought-provoking works are often seen as making a “political statement.”
The location of the trade route, next to funeral directors and drones flying in the distance, is believed to paint a picture of the global arms trade.
But although this Banksy painting would be worth hundreds of thousands of pounds, he said it may not be easy to find a buyer.
“It's worth a lot of money.” Mr. Blanche added.
He said whoever owns it may find it difficult to sell because of how he obtained it.
Banksy has installed other pieces this year including Valentine's Mascara, a 3.8-tonne mural that appeared on the side of a house in Margate, Kent, on Valentine's Day.
It depicts a 1950s housewife with a bulging eye and missing teeth, wearing an apron and yellow laundry gloves, throwing a man into a freezer.
In September, it was placed in the lobby of the Art of Banksy gallery in central London, where it can be viewed for free.
Four years ago, Banksy set up shop in Croydon displaying the stab jacket he designed for Stormzy's headlining show at Glastonbury Festival.
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