Earlier this month the museum admitted the police were investigating the theft of jewellery and a member of staff was dismissed following the discovery that items from its collection "were found to be missing, stolen or damaged”.
Today Fischer apologised for his initial reaction to the situation. He said: “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 responsibility for that failure must ultimately rest with the director. I also misjudged the remarks I made earlier this week about Dr Gradel [art dealer Ittai 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."
George Osborne, chair of trustees said: “The board of trustees has accepted the resignation of Hartwig Fisher as director. He has acted honourably in confronting the mistakes that have been made. No one has ever doubted Hartwig’s integrity, his dedication to his job, or his love for the museum.
“Hartwig had already announced his intention to step down some weeks ago, so the process of finding a new permanent director is already underway.
“The trustees will now establish an interim arrangement. I am clear about this: we are going to fix what has gone wrong. The museum has a mission that lasts across generations. We will learn, restore confidence and deserve to be admired once again.”