Hundreds of historical artefacts have gone missing from the British Museum since 2013, the institution’s records reportedly show.
Gold coins, silver necklaces and 540 pieces of pottery are unaccounted for, according to a new Freedom of Information (FOI) request.
The British Museum revealed last week that police are investigating items that are “missing, stolen or damaged” from its collection.
Legal action is being taken by the London-based institution against an unnamed member of staff, who has been sacked.
The Times reported on Thursday that an FOI request to the museum has disclosed that a Greek silver coin, a 4th-century Roman coin and a German coin disappeared from the museum in the year to April 2014.
An early 20th-century ring, a chain made up of “round-sectioned silver wire”, wooden opium poppy scorers shaped like birds and frogs, and glazed leaf pendants and beads are also said to be among the items missing over the last 10 years.
Emails leaked to BBC News claim the museum was alerted by an antiquities dealer to items being sold on eBay in 2021 and ignored the report.
In a statement to the PA news agency on Wednesday, director Hartwig Fischer said: “When allegations were brought to us in 2021 we took them incredibly seriously, and immediately set up an investigation.
“Concerns were only raised about a small number of items, and our investigation concluded that those items were all accounted for.
“We now have reason to believe that the individual who raised concerns had many more items in his possession, and it’s frustrating that that was not revealed to us as it would have aided our investigations.
“In 2022 we embarked on a full audit – which revealed a bigger problem.
“I reported my concerns to the trustees, and together we agreed to call in the police. We also then began the disciplinary process that resulted in a member of staff being dismissed.
“I am clear that at every step my priority has been the care of the incredible British Museum collection, and that continues today – with our commitment to learning lessons from the independent review, our determination to help the police with their criminal investigation, and our focus on the recovery programme.”
In July, the museum announced that Mr Fischer, a German art historian, will step down from his role next year.
Ittai Gradel, an author, academic and antiquities dealer who said he alerted the museum, told the BBC: “The claim that I withheld information from the British Museum is an outright lie.
“I was explicit in my communication with the British Museum that I was entirely at their disposal for any further information or assistance they would require. They never contacted me.”
The museum has not specified how many items have been stolen or detailed what the missing items are, saying only that they are “small pieces”, including “gold jewellery and gems of semi-precious stones and glass dating from the 15th century BC to the 19th century AD”.
PA understands that the items were taken before 2023 and over a “significant” period of time.
An independent review of security has been launched and the matter is also under investigation by the economic crime command of the Metropolitan Police.
No arrests have been made.
The review will be led by former museum trustee Sir Nigel Boardman and Lucy D’Orsi, Chief Constable of British Transport Police.
Online marketplace eBay said: “Our dedicated law enforcement liaison team is in close contact with the Metropolitan Police and is supporting the investigation into this case.
“eBay does not tolerate the sale of stolen property. If we identify that a listing on our site is stolen, we immediately remove it and work with law enforcement to support investigations and keep our site safe.”
The British Museum has been contacted for a response.