British Museum

The British Museum in Bloomsbury. Image: With permission from British Museum.

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Following the discovery of thefts from the collection, the Board of Trustees instigated an independent review.

Led by British Museum board member Sir Nigel Boardman, chief constable Lucy D’Orsi and deputy High Court judge Ian Karet, the recommendations published have been unanimously accepted by the British Museum’s Board of Trustees.

The museum said that more than a third of the published recommendations are already underway or completed under the new leadership of Sir Mark Jones, including a plan to complete the documentation and digitisation of the entire collection within the next five years.

Interim director Sir Mark Jones said: “This is a helpful set of recommendations, many of which we are already delivering on. No one can pretend this has been an easy period for the museum, but I have the utmost admiration for the commitment of the staff to building a stronger future for the museum we all care so deeply about.”  

The thefts became public knowledge in August this year when the museum announced the news and that the police were investigating.

The thefts had taken place over a considerable period of time and that the total number of items damaged or missing is estimated to be around 2000 mainly unregistered gems and jewellery from the department of Greece and Rome.

Suspicions raised

The museum was first alerted to suspicions of thefts in 2021 by Dr Ittai Gradel, a Danish academic and dealer specialising in Roman antiquities, who raised the alarm after spotting a number of items for sale online. However, an investigation by the museum at the time incorrectly concluded that there was no basis to the claims. 

Later that year, a spot check by an internal audit led to a wider audit in April 2022 which subsequently revealed further evidence of missing objects. 

In December, concerns arising from the audit were raised with senior management and the chair of the British Museum. The chair called in the police immediately and an investigation began.

Subsequently a member of staff was dismissed.

The recommendations can be found on the British Museum’s website.

The British Museum theft in numbers:

2000 damaged or missing items in total

1500 are missing or stolen

350 items have had portions removed (eg. gold mounts)

140 that have been damaged by tool marks 

351 items have been returned

300 further items have been identified