The race to save a local Banksy mural which has involved everyone from the local council, to the Culture Secretary, the Metropolitan Police, the Arts Council to the FBI could end in failure Saturday night as the piece is due to go up for auction in Miami.
The graffiti, 'Slave Labour' was removed from the side of a Poundland store in Wood Green, north London, last weekend, in mysterious circumstances. It has appeared now at a Miami auction house, and is expected to fetch more than £450,000.
The stencil by the famed, secretive graffiti artist of a young boy sewing Union Jack bunting on an antique sewing machine appeared on the side of a north London bargain store
Slave Labour, which shows a young boy hunched over a sewing machine making Union Jack bunting, appeared on
the wall in Wood Green, north London, last May, just before the Diamond Jubilee celebrations.
Fine Art Auctions featured the art work on the front page of their website ahead of their Modern, Contemporary and Street Art sale at noon local time. They expect Slave Labour to reach between £328,063 and£459,288 at auction.
A rat holding up a sign saying: "Why?" has been stencilled next to the empty space where the mural stood, with some speculating it could be another work by Banksy.
But the artist's representative told HuffPost UK that it was a fake.
Local councillor Alan Strickland has written to the Arts Council and Culture Secretary Maria Miller to ask them to intervene. So far however, they have not succeeded in halting the auction.
In a letter to Councillor Strickland seen by HuffPost UK, the Arts Council said it could not halt the sale, because the work is under 50 years old it is excluded from Export Control under current regulations. It offered the Council avenues where it could get legal advice to stop the sale.
Haringey Council leader Cllr Claire Kober said: "As the clock ticks towards auction we are stepping up the fight to secure the return of our Banksy.
"We want to explore all avenues for getting back this important mural and having written to the Arts Council and Fine Arts Auction Miami earlier in the week we are now appealing to the Mayor of Miami Tomás Regalado and the highest ranked of our own politicians in the culture department.
"We have had residents from across the whole borough and people across the UK and beyond express how dismayed they are that a piece of art given to the community for free is now being sold for a quick profit."
Council leader Claire Kober said in an open letter to FAA owner Frederic Thut: "We understand that there may be nothing illegal in the way this artwork was quietly removed from our streets and put up for auction by you in Miami.
"But for you to allow it to be sold for huge profit in this way would be morally wrong."
Thut said he had received hundreds of angry phone calls but that the sale was legally, the owner was not British and had sold the piece in order to conserve it. "It's been said that the artwork was stolen, and that is just not true," he told the Guardian.
A new stenciled rat appears on the side of Poundland on Whymark Avenue beside where the old Banksy artwork has been removed
"We take a lot of care with our consignors, who they are, what they do, and if there's any illegality we will not touch it. Everything is checked out 150%."
But he also told ITV in a later interview that if anyone could prove the Banksy had been stolen he would take it off the market.
A solicitor for property firm Wood Green Investments, which owns the Poundland site where the Banksy was painted, told the Financial Times: "If they deny removing the mural they will become embroiled in an international criminal investigation that has already involved the FBI, but if they admit to consenting to (its removal) then they will become the target of abuse.
"As a consequence, the advice to my client has been to say nothing."