British Museum missing nearly 2,000 artefacts worth millions of pounds in ‘horrifying’ revelation

22 August 2023, 07:42 | Updated: 22 August 2023, 08:21

More than 1,500 artefacts are believed to be missing from the museum.
More than 1,500 artefacts are believed to be missing from the museum. Picture: Alamy/

By Jenny Medlicott

More than 1,500 artefacts are believed to have been stolen or destroyed from the British Museum by one thief over a number of years.

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New reports suggest that the total value of missing artefacts may amount to millions of pounds.

Gold, jewellery and gems are said to have been stolen piece by piece from the British Museum in what is believed to be an inside job that has been going on for years.

The discovery was made during an internal investigation into a senior curator who was sacked from the museum in July.

The British Museum refused to reveal the number of items stolen, or any information about the artefacts themselves, but reports suggest some of the missing items are 3,500 years old.

A source has since revealed that the number of artefacts missing is in excess of 1,000 and “closer to 2,000”, according to The Telegraph.

The thefts are being investigated by police but no arrests have been made so far.

Rev Prof Martin Henig, a leading expert on Roman art at the University of Oxford, said the scale of the losses was “horrifying” and “totally unforgivable”.

He said: “This is the worst case that I’ve come across like this because it involves not just selling the odd object, but also destruction. This is totally unforgivable.

Read more: Pictured: British Museum curator and ‘world expert’ on Ancient Greece sacked after treasures vanished

Read more: Race to find priceless artefacts stolen from British Museum in ‘inside job’ as staff member sacked

Peter Higgs was recently sacked from the museum but has denied any wrongdoing.
Peter Higgs was recently sacked from the museum but has denied any wrongdoing. Picture:

“Although they’re small [the artefacts], they were particularly valued in antiquity and they tell us more than sculpture about life in the past. They were very intimate items."

It is thought the revelation will result in calls for Hartwig Fisher, the British Museum director, to resign with immediate effect instead of his previous plans to “pass on the leadership” in 2024.

One source also said that the directorate’s handling of the case can only be described as “negligent and incompetent”.

They claimed that the museum ignored the evidence when it was first presented to them, contrary to the museum’s official statement.

One source added: “The directorate has been banned from the investigation and has nothing to do with it… That the museum’s own management is banned from having any involvement with this investigation is extraordinary. That goes to show that the trustees have apparently lost all trust in the directorate.”

It was revealed last week that an antiquities expert had informed the museum three years ago that artefacts from its collection were being offered for sale on eBay.

One of the items listed was offered for just £40, despite being valued between £25,000 to £50,000.

A British Museum spokesman said: “This is all now subject to a police investigation as well as the independent review. We cannot comment further.”

It comes after it emerged that a former curator for the British Museum, Peter John Higgs, had been sacked.

Mr Higgs was a curator of Mediterranean cultures, and worked at the museum for more than 30 years. He has denied any wrongdoing following his dismissal, according to his family.