British Museum told to keep better records after theft of 1,500 items | British Museum #British #Museum #told #records #theft #items #British #Museum

The British Museum must keep a comprehensive register of all items in its collections after the theft of up to 1,500 objects over recent years, an independent review has said.

The review was initiated by the trustees of the museum, which holds about 8m historical artefacts on behalf of the nation, after it revealed earlier this year that items had been stolen or damaged or were missing.

The thefts caused significant damage to the museum’s international reputation. It was accused of serious security failures and woefully inadequate documentation of artefacts held in storage.

Alongside publishing the review’s recommendations on Tuesday, the museum gave more details of thefts and damage.

It said the thefts took place over a “considerable period of time”, with the total number of items damaged or missing estimated at 2,000. Unregistered gems and jewellery in the department of Greece and Rome appear to have been targeted.

A police investigation is under way, and a long-term senior member of staff at the central London museum was sacked.

The independent review was led by Sir Nigel Boardman, a former corporate lawyer, Lucy D’Orsi, chief constable of the British Transport Police, and Ian Karet, a deputy high court judge. The museum said it had unanimously accepted the review’s recommendations.

The first two recommendations were that the museum should “have a policy which defines what comprises its collection” and that it “should identify the unregistered or inadequately registered objects within the collection and register them fully”.

The museum said this work was already under way and that the documentation and digitisation of its entire collection would be completed within five years.

The review also made recommendations on risk management, auditing, governance and security.

George Osborne, the chair of trustees, said the museum was already “putting our own house in order”.

He added: “The British Museum was the victim of thefts over a long period, and we apologise again that this was allowed to happen. The ongoing police investigation means the full report cannot be published today, but we have accepted the recommendations in full, and have started to recover hundreds of the stolen items.

“Above all, we’re determined to emerge from this period a stronger, more open, and more confident museum that is fit for the future.”

Sir Mark Jones, the museum’s interim director, said: “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.”

Hartwig Fischer, who was director of the British Museum from 2016, resigned in August amid international embarrassment over the theft of artefacts and the museum’s response. He said he accepted responsibility for the museum’s failure to properly respond to warnings about the suspected thefts of thousands of objects in 2021.

The museum said on Tuesday that about three-quarters of the 2,000 items in question had been stolen or were missing. Another 350 items had had portions removed, such as gold mounts for gems, which had probably been sold for scrap. About 140 had been damaged by tool marks.

Of the 1,500 missing or stolen items, 351 items had been returned into the museum’s possession, and more than 300 further items had been identified.

The museum said it believed the thefts “took place over a considerable period of time” and that a “key target appears to have been unregistered items – mainly gems and jewellery – in the department of Greece and Rome”.

It added: “The museum was alerted to suspicions of thefts in 2021 by Dr Ittai Gradel. The museum’s investigation incorrectly concluded that there was no basis to the claims.

“Later that year, a spot check by internal audit revealed an item not in its proper location within the Greece and Rome strongroom. This led to a wider audit of the strong room as well as the Greece and Rome jewellery and gem collection. This started in April 2022 and the audit 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 they began an investigation. At their request nothing was said publicly at that point.

“In August 2023, with the consent of the Metropolitan police service, the British Museum announced the discovery of thefts. At the same time, the museum announced that a member of staff had been dismissed and a review launched in order to look into the matter and provide recommendations regarding future security arrangements at the museum.”

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