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British Museum worker sacked after items found ‘stolen or damaged’

The matter is also under investigation by the economic crime command of the Metropolitan Police

Maanya Sachdeva
Thursday 17 August 2023 05:03 BST
British Museum boss reveals items have been stolen as staff member dismissed

The British Museum has announced items from its collection were found to be missing, stolen or damaged.

The London museum, which houses artefacts from around the world, has launched an independent review of security as it said a staff member at the institution has been dismissed.

The matter is also under investigation by the economic crime command of the Metropolitan Police.

It is understood that the items were taken before 2023 and over a “significant” period of time.

The museum’s director Hartwig Fischer apologised for the missing artefacts, explaining “we are determined to put this right” and ready to “throw our efforts into the recovery of objects”.

Chair of the museum, George Osborne, said the trustees were “extremely concerned” by the incident and “used all the disciplinary powers available to us to deal with the individual we believe to be responsible”.

The items reported stolen, missing, or damaged include gold jewellery, semi-precious stones and glass dating from 1500BC to the 19th century.

The museum described these as small pieces which hadn’t been on public display recently and were mainly used for research and academic work.

A spokesperson for the Met Police said their investigations are ongoing and no arrests have been made, but declined to provide any further information.

Mr Fischer said: “The museum apologises for what has happened, but we have now brought an end to this – and we are determined to put things right.

“We have already tightened our security arrangements and we are working alongside outside experts to complete a definitive account of what is missing, damaged and stolen. This will allow us to throw our efforts into the recovery of objects.”

Mr Osborne outlined key priorities for its trustees including recovering the missing objects and taking steps to ensure an incident like this does not happen again.

He said: “The trustees of the British Museum were extremely concerned when we learnt earlier this year that items of the collection had been stolen.

“The trustees have taken decisive action to deal with the situation, working with the team at the museum.

The museum said it had dismissed a member of staff after items from its collection were found to be ‘missing, stolen or damaged’ (AFP)

“We called in the police, imposed emergency measures to increase security, set up an independent review into what happened and lessons to learn, and used all the disciplinary powers available to us to deal with the individual we believe to be responsible.

“Our priority is now threefold: first, to recover the stolen items; second, to find out what, if anything, could have been done to stop this; and third, to do whatever it takes, with investment in security and collection records, to make sure this doesn’t happen again.

“This incident only reinforces the case for the re-imagination of the museum we have embarked upon. It’s a sad day for all who love our British Museum, but we’re determined to right the wrongs and use the experience to build a stronger museum.”

Items have gone missing from the museum in previous years including a number of coins and medals in the 1970s and a 1993 break-in when Roman coins were taken.

In 2002, the museum reviewed security following a 2,500-year-old Greek statue being stolen by a member of the public.

The institution said at the time that the Greek Archaic Gallery had been open to the public but there was no permanent guard on duty when the 12cm-high marble head was taken.

Two years later, Chinese gems also went missing.

In 2017, it was revealed a £750,000 Cartier ring diamond from the heritage asset collection had been reported absent in 2011.

A view of the British Museum, one of London’s most famous tourist attractions (AP)

The incident comes days after a man was stabbed while waiting in a queue outside the world-famous tourist attraction in London.

Police officers responded to reports of a knife attack near the museum on 8 August, with an eyewitness recalling seeing “a pool and trail of blood” on the ground.

Witnesses described how the middle-aged male victim, who was stabbed in the arm, “dripping blood everywhere” along the busy street while trying to escape.

He was treated at the scene before being taken by the London Ambulance Service to a hospital.

Additional reporting on agencies.

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