Londoner caught selling stolen Banksy on eBay

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Leon Lawrence, 32, of Covent Garden, central London, has been found guilty of trying to profit from the theft of a Banksy artwork from a hotel in London. His fiendishly clever plot was rumbled after he put it up for sale on eBay.

So what happened, and is this the oddest ever art theft?
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The case

Southwark Crown Court heard that the artwork had gone missing from the Hesperia Hotel in Victoria, central London. The work in question has been called 'Sperm Alarm' and shows 15 sperm swimming towards a red sprinkler alarm. It was drawn directly onto a wall panel at the hotel.

Staff alerted the police after noticing the panel was gone, and then seeing it was up for sale on eBay for £17,000. Police traced the account to Lawrence. They also found images of the stolen piece on his laptop, but there was no trace of the artwork.
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Lawrence said he was given the artwork to sell by a friend. He was convicted of attempting to convert criminal property but cleared of handling stolen goods.

Lawrence had already been in trouble for stealing a sculpture from a gallery in Brick Lane, east London, in July last year and was given a community order. In this case, following appeals from Lawrence's family, the judge suspended his nine month prison sentence, so he has avoided being jailed.

Unusual thefts

The idea of selling on a stolen artwork through your public eBay account is an interesting twist on the 'behind-closed-doors' and 'under-the-radar' approach normally taken for stolen works. It makes this particular art theft unusual.

However, tales of the unexpected are nothing new in the art world:

One art theft led to the elevation of a painting to world fame: The Mona Lisa. In 1911, Vincenzo Perugia, along with two brothers, hid in a storeroom overnight, and slipped out in the morning disguised as workmen - with the painting under Perugia's coat. He evaded capture during the investigation and was only caught in 1913 when he tried to sell it to a dealer. In the interim, the media hype made the painting the most famous in France.

There are three versions of Edvard Munch's painting, The Scream. In 1994, one in the National Museum in Oslo was stolen by two thieves armed with particularly low-tech burglary devices - a hammer and a ladder. They left behind a note saying "Thanks for the poor security". The detective work was a bit more effective than the original security though, and three months later the thieves were arrested and the painting recovered.

In 1961, a British pensioner stole a painting of the Duke of Wellington by Goya. He was angered by the introduction of a TV licence - and of the purchase of the painting by the government. He left a window unlocked in the men's toilets in the National Gallery, and returned in the small hours of the next day to exploit building works to steal the painting.

He then tried to ransom it in return for £140,000 to be given to charity to fund licences for the elderly and retired. When the authorities assumed it was a hoax he gave up, left the painting in a station, and turned himself in. He argued in court that he had not intended to steal the painting, but to borrow it. However, he was convicted of stealing the frame and given three months in prison.

And finally, in July this year, there was a twist on theft - as an artwork was returned in an unusual way. Salvador Dali's "Cartel de Don Juan Tenirio" was posted back to the New York gallery from which it was stolen a month earlier.

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Londoner caught selling stolen Banksy on eBay

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