News Update


The British Museum has recovered some of the 2,000 stolen objects.

The ex-chancellor acknowledged that the museum’s reputation had harmed, but stated that “it is a mess that we will clean up.”

He told the BBC that “more could have been done” after worries about theft were raised in February 2021.

A museum employee suspected of involvement has been fired.

And, on Friday, the museum’s director, Hartwig Fischer, announced his resignation after admitting that a 2021 inquiry was mishandled.

The museum, one of the most prominent cultural organizations in the United Kingdom, has been under fire since it was revealed earlier this month that a number of masterpieces were reported “missing, stolen, or damaged.”

The artefacts in question dated from the 15th century BC to the 19th century AD and had been retained primarily for scholarly and research purposes, according to the museum.

Mr. Osborne, who was named museum chair in June 2021, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that “we have already begun to recover some of the stolen items.”

“We believe we have been the victims of thefts over a long period of time, and frankly, more could have been done to prevent them,” he said.

When asked where the missing objects had been found, he stated that “some members of the antiquarian community are actively cooperating with us” and that the recoveries thus far were a “silver lining to a dark cloud.”

He expressed confidence that “honest people” will return stolen stuff, but admitted that “others may not.”

The British Museum, founded in 1753, has acquired a collection of around eight million pieces, but as of 2019, only approximately 80,000 were on public display, with the remainder maintained in storage.

Mr. Osborne stated that not all of the artifacts are “properly catalogued and registered” and that “someone with knowledge of what is not registered has a big advantage in removing” them.

Mr. Osborne stated that the museum is collaborating closely with the police and that a “forensic job” is underway to determine exactly what is lost. He stated that the museum’s security needed to be strengthened.

“It has undoubtedly harmed the British Museum’s reputation, to state the obvious, and that is why I’m apologizing on its behalf,” Mr Osborne added.

Detectives from the Metropolitan Police have interviewed a guy in connection with the missing items, but no arrests have been made.

Senior museum officials have hurried to explain how they handled the discovery of missing artefacts after it was revealed that concerns about potential thefts were expressed two years ago.

When asked why concerns voiced in 2021 were not taken seriously, Mr Osborne said he did not believe there was a “cover-up” at the museum’s top, but it was “possible” that “groupthink” among senior personnel meant they “could not believe that there was an insider” stealing items.

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Mr Fischer, who has been director since 2016, said on Friday that he would step down once an interim replacement was named.

He was supposed to stand down in 2024.

“It is clear 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,” he said in a statement.

“Ultimately, the director must bear responsibility for that failure.”

He also apologized for “misjudged” remarks in which he said the antiquities dealer who raised the first suspicions in 2021 concealed information about the missing pieces.

Deputy director Jonathan Williams, who was involved in the 2021 probe, will temporarily step down from his customary duties until the museum’s independent assessment is completed.

The missing-treasures incident has raised concerns about the British Museum’s larger function as a repository for artefacts from all around the world.

Despoina Koutsoumba, a Greek archaeologist, told the BBC this week that the Parthenon sculptures are “not safe” in London. The Greek government has long advocated for the return of the artifacts, known colloquially as the Elgin Marbles.

Tim Loughton MP, Conservative head of the all-party parliamentary group on museums, has denied that the institution is no longer a trusted steward of its massive collection.

He called calls for the return of antiquities to their countries of origin “opportunistic,” telling BBC News culture and media editor Katie Razzall that other countries should “rally around to help retrieve objects rather than trying to take advantage.”

Mr. Osborne stated that the British Museum is critical in bringing together major collections from throughout the world, adding, “In an age where we are always reminded of what divides us, it is a place that reminds us of what we have in common.”


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