The British Museum has sacked a member of staff and imposed “emergency measures” to increase security after it found items from its collection to be missing.
It launched an independent review of security after items including gold jewellery and gems of semi-precious stones and glass dating from the 15th century BC to the 19th century AD were found to be missing, stolen or damaged.
Legal action against the dismissed member of staff will be taken and the matter is also being investigated by the economic crime command of the Metropolitan police.
The museum’s independent review, led by Sir Nigel Boardman, a former trustee, and Lucy D’Orsi, chief constable of the British Transport Police, will investigate and make recommendations on future security arrangements. It will also “kickstart a vigorous programme to recover the missing items”, the museum said.
Most of the missing items were small pieces kept in a storeroom belonging to one of the museum’s collections. None had recently been on public display, and they were kept primarily for academic and research purposes.
George Osborne, chair of the British Museum, said: “The trustees of the British Museum were extremely concerned when we learned 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. 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 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.”
Hartwig Fischer, the museum’s director, said: “This is a highly unusual incident. I know I speak for all colleagues when I say that we take the safeguarding of all the items in our care extremely seriously.
“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.”
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.”
The British Museum said it would not comment further while the police investigation continued.
A spokesperson for the Met said: “We have been working alongside the British Museum. “There is currently an ongoing investigation – there is no arrest and inquiries continue. We will not be providing any further information at this time.”
It is understood that the museum hopes the review of security will be completed by the end of the year.
Items that have gone missing from the museum in previous years include a number of coins and medals taken in the 1970s, and Roman coins stolen in a 1993 break-in.
In 2017, it was revealed a £750,000 Cartier diamond ring from the heritage asset collection had been reported absent in 2011.
https://www.theguardian.com/culture/2023/aug/16/british-museum-sacks-staff-member-after-items-vanish-from-collection British Museum sacks staff member after items vanish from collection | British Museum