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British Museum has recovered some of the estimated 2,000 stolen artefacts, chairman reveals

British Museum has recovered some of the estimated 2,000 stolen artefacts, chairman reveals

The British Museum has recovered some of the stolen items taken from the institution, chairman George Osborne has said.

Speaking on Saturday, Mr Osborne apologised for the scandal that has rocked the iconic London institution and admitted more could have been to stop the theft previously.

A Met Police investigation into the stolen artefacts is currently underway while an unnamed member of staff - interviewed by police - has been sacked.

According to the institution, the items, used for research, dated from the “15th century BC to the 19th century AD”.

A number of artefacts and jewels have been stolen from the British Museum over the years (Chris Young/PA) (PA Archive)
A number of artefacts and jewels have been stolen from the British Museum over the years (Chris Young/PA) (PA Archive)

Mr Osborne told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “On behalf of the British Museum, I want to apologise for what has happened.

“We believe we’ve been the victim of thefts over a long period of time and, frankly, more could have been done to prevent them.

“But I promise you this: it is a mess that we are going to clear up. I can tell you today that we’ve already started to recover some of the stolen items.

“We’re going to deliver the stronger leadership that the public and the dedicated staff at the museum deserve and make sure we emerge with a stronger British Museum that’s fit for the 21st century.”

It is believed the items include gold jewellery, gems of semi-precious stones and glass, which were taken before 2023.

Leaked emails to the BBC have since showed the museum was alerted by an antiquities dealer to items being sold on eBay in 2021 and ignored the report.

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

Mr Osborne added that the institution believes around 2,000 items had been stolen while security has since been stepped up around its storerooms.

“I will give you an estimate of around 2,000. But I have to say that’s a very provisional figure,” the former chancellor said.

“We have started to recover some of the stolen items, which is a silver lining to a dark cloud.”

Amid the ongoing investigation, director Hartwig Fischer announced his resignation on Friday, saying in a statement: “Over the last few days I have been reviewing in detail the events around the thefts from the British Museum and the investigation into them. It is evident that the British Museum did not respond as comprehensively as it should have in response to the warnings in 2021, and to the problem that has now fully emerged.

The British Museum’s director said it is “frustrating” the person who raised concerns about missing items at the institution did not say they had more artefacts (Benedict Johnson/The British Museum/PA) (PA Media)
The British Museum’s director said it is “frustrating” the person who raised concerns about missing items at the institution did not say they had more artefacts (Benedict Johnson/The British Museum/PA) (PA Media)

“The responsibility for that failure must ultimately rest with the director. I also misjudged the remarks I made earlier this week about Dr Gradel. I wish to express my sincere regret and withdraw those remarks.

“I have offered my resignation to the chairman of the trustees, and will step down as soon as the board have established an interim leadership arrangement. This will remain in place until a new director is chosen.

“The situation facing the museum is of the utmost seriousness. I sincerely believe it will come through this moment and emerge stronger, but sadly I have come to the conclusion that my presence is proving a distraction.

“That is the last thing I would want. Over the last seven years I have been privileged to work with some of the most talented and dedicated public servants. The British Museum is an amazing institution, and it has been the honour of my life to lead it.”

His deputy Jonathan Williams has also agreed to voluntarily step back from normal duties “with immediate effect” until the independent review into thefts has concluded.