Panic at National Portrait Gallery as masked men stage ‘hoax heist’
MASKED men sparked panic at the National Portrait Gallery when they staged a hoax heist in an apparent protest against sponsorship by BP.
Visitors described a “stampede” as they fled the BP Portrait Award 2015 exhibition after men burst in at about 3.30pm yesterday.
The intruders allegedly tried to prise a work, Clarity by artist Frank Oriti, off the wall — sparking alarm bells before eventually fleeing empty-handed. One visitor said gallery staff told her it was a protest against BP, who have sponsored the £30,000 prize since 1989.
Monica Remmers, 24, from Washington DC, said people were “terrified” and shouted at each other to run.
“There was a stampede and I tried to get out through the revolving door,” she said. “My boyfriend looked back and saw the two men with stockings on their heads and we just ran several streets away with about 40 people alongside us. The masked men came out of the same exit as us but we just kept running.” Engineer John Birch, 36, from Catford, said the timing was irresponsible.
“I have no problem with protests,” he said. “The arts have always danced with the devil for funding, but on the eve of the 7/7 anniversary to walk into a major tourist location wearing a mask is just utter lunacy. People were scared for their lives and I thought there would be a shooting.”
Witnesses said there were about 100 people in the gallery at the time.
A Scotland Yard spokesman said four men had been arrested in connection with the incident.
A gallery spokeswoman said: “The gallery can confirm than none of its visitors or staff were physically harmed and nothing was stolen or vandalised.
“The building was not in lockdown and staff at the gallery handled the situation in a professional manner with a member of staff holding the door open for visitors who wished to leave.”
The Art Not Oil coalition, which has previously campaigned against BP, said it knew nothing about the protest.