British Museum fires worker accused of stealing gold and gems

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British Museum fires worker accused of stealing gold and gems
The museum said that it had dismissed a worker accused of taking the items, some thousands of years old, from a storeroom. The police are investigating. (Tom Jamieson/The New York Times)

by Alex Marshall

LONDON.- The British Museum has fired a staff member on suspicion of looting jewels from a storeroom and started a review of its security practices, the museum announced Wednesday.

The worker, who has not been named, stole or damaged items including gold jewelry and “gems of semi-precious stones and glass” dating from the 15th century B.C. to the 19th century, the museum said in a news release.

London’s police force said in a statement that it was conducting an investigation, but that there had not been any arrests and that its “enquiries continue.”

Because of the police investigation, the museum would not comment on the value of the missing items or give any more details about them, a museum spokesperson said in a telephone interview. The museum said that the majority of the items were small pieces kept in a storeroom. None had recently been on public display, the museum said, adding that “they were kept primarily for academic and research purposes.”

George Osborne, the museum’s chair, said in the news release that the museum was now working to recover the items and would “do whatever it takes, with investment in security and collections records, to make sure this doesn’t happen again.”

“It’s a sad day for all who love our British Museum, but we’re determined to right the wrongs and use the experience to build a stronger museum,” Osborne said.

The thefts are far from the first at the London institution. In 2017, the museum announced that six years earlier it lost a diamond Cartier ring worth almost $1 million. In 2004, 15 pieces of Chinese jewelry were stolen in opening hours, while in 2002 a 2,500-year-old Greek marble head was taken from atop a plinth.

Several other European museums have also been victims of theft recently. Last year, thieves stole a cache of almost 500 ancient gold coins from the Celtic and Roman Museum in Manching, Bavaria. In 2019, a heist at Dresden’s Green Vault museum led to about 100 million euros, some $108 million, worth of jewels going missing. In May, five men were convicted for their role in that heist, and much of the jewelry has been recovered.

Christopher A. Marinello, a lawyer who works on recovering stolen art, said in a telephone interview that thefts from museums were “a big problem” worldwide and often involved staff. Still, he added, “for this to happen at the British Museum is extremely embarrassing and alarming.”

Wednesday’s announcement comes just more than a week after a man was wounded in a stabbing outside the museum, leading to the tourist attraction being evacuated.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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