An artwork by the renowned graffiti artist Banksy at the centre of a controversial auction has been withdrawn from sale at the last minute.
The mural Slave Labour, which shows a young boy hunched over a sewing machine making Union Jack bunting, appeared on a wall in north London last May, just before the Diamond Jubilee celebrations.
It disappeared from the side of the Poundland store in Wood Green last weekend and was due to be auctioned in the United States on Saturday evening, PA reports.
Fine Art Auctions in Miami expected it to reach between $US500,000 and $US700,000.
But Haringey Council in London, which has been campaigning to have the mural returned, says it has been been told the sale has been halted, with no explanation given from the auction house.
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.
On Saturday a new painting, of a woman wearing a nun's habit with a red star over one of her eyes, appeared over the Slave Labour site.
Before the sale was scheduled to begin, auction house owner Frederic Thut said that he had been inundated with angry phone calls from the UK, but insisted that the artwork was not stolen.
A Scotland Yard spokesman said there had been no reports of any theft.
The firm Wood Green Investments, which owns the site where the Banksy mural was painted, has made no comment.
Its solicitor told the Financial Times that if the company denies removing the mural it will become embroiled in an international criminal investigation but if it admits to consenting to the painting's removal it will become the target of abuse.
The artist himself, who shields his real identity, has so far remained silent on the issue.