British Museum sacks employee over jewel theft

The museum has tightened security after a member of staff allegedly stole a collection of ancient gold and precious stones

British Museum sacks employee over jewel theft

A member of staff allegedly made off with a collection of ancient gold and precious stones

The British Museum has announced that it will take legal action against one of its employees, after a collection of jewellery and gems were found “missing, stolen, or damaged.” Some of the artefacts were more than 3,000 years old.

In a press release on Wednesday, the London-based museum announced that “gold jewellery and gems of semi-precious stones and glass dating from the 15th century BC to the 19th century AD” had been taken from a storeroom, where they were kept for academic and research purposes.

A member of staff has been dismissed, the museum stated, adding that the matter was under investigation by London’s Metropolitan Police. 

“Our priority is now threefold: first, to recover the stolen items; second, to find out what, if anything, could have been done to stop this; and third, to do whatever it takes, with investment in security and collection records, to make sure this doesn’t happen again,” British Museum Chair George Osborne said.

The theft was first discovered earlier this year, Osborne said, adding that museum staff conducted an internal review and identified the alleged culprit. No further details were given on the suspect or how they managed to remove the jewels.

The British Museum has itself been accused of theft, with authorities in Ethiopia, Greece, and Nigeria, as well as Aboriginal communities in Australia and Easter Island all currently embroiled in legal disputes with the museum over the return of artefacts taken to the UK during Britain’s colonial heyday. 

According to UK law, the government must sign off on the return of museum artefacts to their native lands in all but a few narrow cases. Addressing the museum’s dispute with Greece over the ancient Parthenon Marbles, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s office said in December that it had “no plans to change the law, which prohibits removing objects from the museum’s collections.”