A 28ft piece of mangled metal from Ground Zero, presented to Britain as a lasting symbol of peace, has sparked a row between the UK and US and threatened to put the "special relationship" under strain.
In a move described as "insulting" to the thousands of Americans who died on 9/11, a sculpture made from steel recovered from the twin towers was unceremoniously removed from Battersea Park on Friday, barely a month after it was unveiled to great fanfare by the London Mayor, Boris Johnson, to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the 11 September attacks.
Industrial cranes descended on the park's "American Ground" on Friday and hauled up the sculpture, before it was removed to a warehouse in Duxford, Cambridgeshire. The move came after protracted negotiations over where to keep the sculpture broke down.
Entitled After 9/11, the 28ft exhibit was designed by the Asian-American artist Miya Ando and presented to Britain by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey on condition that it permanently featured in a prominent London location.
The decision to accept the sculpture is understood to have been taken by Mr Johnson during a visit to New York. It was originally earmarked for outside the Greater London Authority building near Tower Bridge, but it subsequently transpired that the necessary permissions had not been secured. One source told The IoS: "It was all very well for Mr Johnson to agree to the deal – but no planning permissions were ever sought ahead of time."
The London Borough of Wandsworth says it only ever granted it a 28-day temporary licence to allow it to be displayed at Battersea Park. A council spokesman added: "We stepped in at the last minute to allow it to be on display for the 9/11 anniversary, as there was nowhere else for it to go when it arrived in Britain. Had we not made an offer, it would have remained locked in a warehouse in Liverpool."
Peter Rosengard, founder of the 9/11 London Project, said: "The artwork has received a tremendous reaction from both the media and the public, but it now has to be temporarily moved into storage while a central London location is assured."
Yesterday a former New York firefighter, Lee Ielpi, who lost his son – also a fireman – on the day of the attacks, told The IoS: "The world needs to understand who did this to us, why and what we can do to prevent it ever happening again. That only comes through education of the next generation. We would be disappointed if the piece of steel graciously given to London as a mark of respect is not given a prominent position."