The Metropolitan Police is investigating how several items from the British Museum’s collection were stolen or damaged by a member of the institution’s staff.
After “what is believed to be the largest breach of security in a decade”, said The Times, the museum announced yesterday that an employee has been dismissed and will face legal action. No arrests have been made and the museum is conducting an independent review into what happened.
“The irreplaceable items” that were “taken from the vaults” include gold jewellery, semi-precious gemstones and glass dating from the 15th-century BC to the 19th-century AD, said The Telegraph. They were primarily used for academic and research work, and had not recently been on display in the museum.
“It is understood the thefts have been going on for a significant period of time,” said The Times. Detectives are “now in a race against time to recover the missing pieces before they can be smuggled out of the country or even destroyed”, said The Telegraph.
The museum’s director Hartwig Fischer, who is stepping down from the role next year, said this was a “highly unusual incident”. George Osborne, the former chancellor and now chair of the museum, said it was a “sad day for all who love our British Museum”, adding that it was “determined to right the wrongs and use the experience to build a stronger museum”.
Security at the museum has been tightened. Items have previously been stolen from its collection, including a Cartier ring worth £750,000 in 2011, 15 pieces of medieval Chinese jewellery in 2004, and “a 2,500-year-old Greek marble head worth about £50,000” in 2002, said The Times.
The museum is facing a “turbulent time”, as it looks to hire a new director “who will inherit delicate matters”, said the newspaper, including “discontent” over its sponsorship deal with oil company BP and continued campaigns for the repatriation of items in the collection including the Elgin Marbles.