An opportunistic thief was reportedly caught attempting to steal a Banksy work from a hospital in Southampton, UK, just days after it was installed. The thief was seen loitering around the painting in the early hours of May 8 carrying a drill and wearing a hazmat suit.
Had the burglar been successful, the robbery would have not only deprived exhausted front-line workers from a much-needed morale boost, but also potentially deprived the National Health Service of millions in funds, as the hospital has plans to auction the work this fall.
Hospital security guards threw out the thief after noticing him scoping out the site on security cameras. Police were not called to the scene.
“The man just walked in brandishing a cordless drill,” a source told The Sun. A hospital spokesperson also confirmed the attempted theft to the newspaper. “Security spotted him and asked a supervisor if they should stop him. They were told to watch him and he was seen walking past the picture at least five times, clearly having a good look.”
Banksy had donated the monochrome painting to the hospital on May 6, just two days before the attempted heist. The monochromatic work, called Game Changer, depicts a young boy playing with a nurse doll, while other superhero toys Batman and Spiderman lie discarded in a trash can.
The artist left a note for the hospital staff saying “Thanks for all you’re doing. I hope this brightens the place up a bit, even if it’s only black and white.”
The hospital hopes to auction the work this fall to raise money for the struggling NHS. Banksy’s current auction record stands at $12 million, achieved by a painting of a chimp-filled UK parliament, which sold at Sotheby’s in October 2019. While the art market has been hit by the public health situation, confidence in the street artist’s market has not wavered as much as other markets, with some experts estimating that the sale could generate more than $6 million in much-needed funds.