British Museum sacks worker over ‘stolen’ items

17 Aug 2023 News

The British Museum, London

by coward_lion / Adobe

The British Museum has dismissed a member of staff after reporting that items from its collection were “missing, stolen or damaged”. 

Gold jewellery, gems of semi-precious stones and glass dating from as far back as 15th century BC were among the items. None were on public display but held in storage for research and academic purposes. 

The charity said it will be taking legal action against the individual and police are investigating.

Police investigation and security review

Metropolitan Police’s economic crime command unit is investigating the matter and has yet to make an arrest. 

A spokesperson for the police said: “We have been working alongside the British Museum. There is currently an ongoing investigation – there is no arrest and enquiries continue.”

Former British Museum deputy chair Nigel Boardman and British Transport Police chief constable Lucy D’Orsi are also leading an independent review of security at the museum.

They will provide security recommendations for the future and begin a programme to recover the missing items. 

Boardman said: “The British Museum has been the victim of theft and we are absolutely determined to use our review in order to get to the bottom of what happened, and ensure lessons are learnt.

“We are working alongside the Metropolitan Police in the interest of criminal justice to support any investigations. 

“Furthermore, the recovery programme will work to ensure the stolen items are returned to the museum. It will be a painstaking job, involving internal and external experts, but this is an absolute priority – however long it takes – and we are grateful for the help we have already received.”

‘Highly unusual incident’

Hartwig Fischer, director of the British Museum, said the incident was “highly unusual”. 

“I know I speak for all colleagues when I say that we take the safeguarding of all the items in our care extremely seriously,” he 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.”

The charity announced last month that Fischer would be leaving his post next year after eight years at the helm. The search for his replacement will begin this autumn. 

George Osborne: ‘It’s a sad day’

George Osborne, chair of the British Museum and former chancellor, said the trustees of the museum were “extremely concerned” when they discovered items had been stolen earlier this year. 

“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 reimagination 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.”

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