Police interview man following reported British Museum thefts

The items, which include gold jewellery and semi-precious stones, were taken before 2023 and over a 'significant' period of time

A man has been interviewed by the Metropolitan Police following alleged thefts from the British Museum, but no arrests have been made. PA
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Metropolitan Police officers have interviewed a man following reported thefts at the British Museum.

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

“A man has been interviewed by investigating officers. No arrests have been made,” police said on Thursday.

“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.”

An unnamed member of staff has been sacked and the institution is taking legal action.

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

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.

Museum director Hartwig Fischer said it had taken concerns two years ago about a small number of items “seriously”.

The German art historian, who the museum announced in July will 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.

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“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,” Mr Fischer also said.

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

“The claim that I withheld information from the BM [British Museum] is an outright lie, and I can prove it,” he said in a statement to the PA news agency.

“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”.

An independent review of security, conducted by former museum trustee Sir Nigel Boardman and Lucy D’Orsi, Chief Constable of the British Transport Police, has been launched.

“Our dedicated law enforcement liaison team is in close contact with the Metropolitan Police and is supporting the investigation into this case,” online marketplace eBay said.

“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.”

Updated: August 24, 2023, 6:43 PM