A MASTER forger claims he is the man behind a painting being auctioned as a possible Picasso.

The artwork, believed to be an early version of Picasso’s Seated Bather, was snapped up by Crawley man Philip Stapleton at a car boot sale for just £230.

He suspected it was a good quality fake, but auction room staff told him it could be genuine and worth up to £1 million.

Now prolific forger David Henty, from Brighton, has claimed he painted the piece, pouring cold water on Mr Stapleton’s dreams of a big pay-off.

However, staff at Brighton and Hove Auction Rooms have hit back at the claims.

They say they have already had bids for the painting from Australia and Italy – including from a collector.

The painting features Picasso’s signatures on the front and back and the auction room claimed that there was “too much proof to dismiss” it being the real deal.

Mr Henty, who was jailed in the 1990s for forging British passports, said he “spat up his dinner” when he saw the painting on TV on Thursday evening.

He said: “It’s definitely mine.

“It’s just one I gave away about three years ago.

“The inscriptions on the back give it away. the stencils and the Roland Penrose bit.

“I had another similar one I gave to a friend a while ago.

“I only did it for a bit of fun.

“I wasn’t planning on selling it, I just painted it for pleasure.”

Mr Henty added that his work often sold for up to £10,000.

He is also claiming that the auction house has not done enough to verify the painting as an authentic Picasso.

He said: “There’s no reserve on a painting that they claim is worth one million pounds.

“You wonder if they’ve done due diligence on it.”

Rosie May of Brighton and Hove Auction Rooms dismissed the claims.

She said: “It’s great if it’s true. It’s a mystery solved.

“But he’s made money out of lying about paintings, so I don’t believe a word he says.

“I’m not surprised he’s said it’s his.

“If I wanted to know my bank details I’d listen to my bank manager over Ronnie Biggs.

“But I think it’s sad to stamp on someone’s possibility of good fortune.”

Addressing the lack of reserve on the painting, Mrs May said that “virtually none” of the items sold at the auction house carried a reserve price as they “find we can sell things for what they are worth”.

She added that the auction room had not brought in a specialist to verify the painting because it was still the property of Mr Stapleton.

Mr Stapleton bought the piece from a car boot sale in West Sussex.

He left it in his bedroom for six months before taking it to the auction house.

He said: “I’ve been collecting antiques for a few years, but I rarely pick up artwork.

“I just had a good feeling about it. At first it looked like a fake.

“Even if it was a fake I thought it was worth buying.

“But now everything seems to add up to it being real.”

The painting goes up for sale at Brighton and Hove Auction Rooms and on www.thesaleroom.com on June 7 at 10am.