Man interviewed by police following ‘thefts’ at British Museum

It is believed that items including gold and precious stones were taken over a significant period of time

Charlotte McLaughlin
Thursday 24 August 2023 14:54 BST
Police said no arrests have been made
Police said no arrests have been made (PA)

A man has been interviewed by Metropolitan Police officers following thefts which were reported at the British Museum.

The London institution revealed last week that the force is investigating items that are “missing, stolen or damaged” from its collection.

In a statement on Thursday, police said: “A man has been interviewed by investigating officers. No arrests have been made.

“We have worked closely with the British Museum and will continue to do so.

“We will not be providing any further information at this time. Inquiries continue.”

A member of staff has been sacked and the London-based institution is taking legal action.

It is understood that the items, which include gold jewellery, gems of semi-precious stones and glass, were taken before 2023 and over a “significant” period of time.

A number of artefacts and jewels have been stolen from the British Museum over the years
A number of artefacts and jewels have been stolen from the British Museum over the years (PA Archive)

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.

Director Hartwig Fischer said the museum had taken concerns two years ago about a small number of items “seriously”.

The German art historian, who the museum announced in July would step down from his role next year, added: “The 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.”

He also said a full audit in 2022 had revealed a “bigger” problem which led to police involvement.

Mr Fischer also said: “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.”

Ittai Gradel, an author, academic and antiquities dealer, who said he alerted the museum, disagreed with its version of events.

He said: “The claim that I withheld information from the BM (British Museum) is an outright lie, and I can prove it.

“I was explicit in my communication with the BM 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” dating from the “15th century BC to the 19th century AD”.

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