Met Police interview man over British Museum thefts

Met Police interview man over British Museum ‘thefts’ as it its revealed that sacked curator’s Twitter name is same as ebay seller who flogged 70 items to whistleblower

  • A man has been interviewed by the Met Police after ‘thefts’ at British Museum

A man has been interviewed by Metropolitan Police officers after missing items were reported at the British Museum.

The London institution revealed last week that the force is investigating items that are ‘missing, stolen or damaged’ from its collection.

In a statement on Thursday, police said: ‘A man has been interviewed by investigating officers. No arrests have been made.

‘We have worked closely with the British Museum and will continue to do so.

‘We will not be providing any further information at this time. Inquiries continue.’

An unnamed member of staff has been sacked and the London-based institution is taking legal action.

It is understood that the items, which include gold jewellery, gems of semi-precious stones and glass, were taken before 2023 and over a ‘significant’ period of time.

British Museum officials launched an investigation into missing artefacts, comprising of gold jewellery, semi-precious stones and glass valued at up to £50,000, were being sold on eBay for as little as £40

Dr Ittai Gradel’s screenshotted one item, showing the eBay’s seller’s name was sultan1966 

Emails leaked to BBC News claim the museum was alerted by an antiquities dealer to items being sold on eBay in 2021 and ignored the report.

Director Hartwig Fischer insisted that the museum had taken concerns ‘seriously’ two years ago.


The German art historian, who the museum announced in July would step down from his role next year, added: ‘The investigation concluded that those items were all accounted for.

‘We now have reason to believe that the individual who raised concerns had many more items in his possession, and it’s frustrating that that was not revealed to us as it would have aided our investigations.’

He also said a full audit in 2022 had revealed a ‘bigger’ problem which led to police involvement.

Mr Fischer also said: ‘I am clear that at every step my priority has been the care of the incredible British Museum collection, and that continues today – with our commitment to learning lessons from the independent review, our determination to help the police with their criminal investigation, and our focus on the recovery programme.’

Dr Ittai Gradel, an antiquities dealer, says he was rebuffed by British museum director Dr Hartwig Fischer and deputy director Dr Jonathan Williams when he sent them evidence in February 2021.

Dr Gardel disagreed with its version of events.

He said: ‘The claim that I withheld information from the BM (British Museum) is an outright lie, and I can prove it.

‘I was explicit in my communication with the BM that I was entirely at their disposal for any further information or assistance they would require. They never contacted me.’

The museum has not specified how many items are missing or detailed what the missing items are, saying only that they are ‘small pieces’ dating from the ’15th century BC to the 19th century AD’.

The art dealer said: ‘I’m willing to accept that Fischer is an idiot who lives in cloud cuckoo land and doesn’t understand anything and relies solely on the advice of his deputy director, Jonathan Williams.’

Higgs’ family insists he is innocent and he will clear his name. Last week, his son Greg said: ‘He’s not done anything. He’s not happy about it at all. 

Dr Ittai Gradel, a Danish art dealer, detected that precious items were being sold on eBay and contacted the British Museum’s directors in 2021, but says his concerns were not acted on

The British Museum’s director Dr Hartwig Fischer (pictured), who was contacted about the missing items in 2021, said: ‘We now have reason to believe that the individual who raised concerns had many more items in his possession, and it’s frustrating that that was not revealed to us…’

Dr Peter Higgs, a curator employed by the British Museum for over 30 years, was sacked, it was revealed last week

The British Museum continues to deal with the disastrous fallout after it emerged last week that as many as 2,000 precious items were unaccounted for

Museum curator Dr Peter Higgs in a 2018 Facebook post wearing an ancient mask

He had worked there for 35 years. His family insist he is innocent

A plasma gem engraved with a portrait of a young Roman in profile is among the items missing from the British Museum

One of the gems believed to have vanished from the British Museum, pictured in its broken state


‘He’s lost his job and his reputation and I don’t think it was fair. It couldn’t have been [him]. I don’t think there is even anything missing as far as I’m aware.’

Dr Gradel purchased over 70 items from the eBay seller from 2014 onwards.

He said he became suspicious after seeing an item had featured on the British Museum’s website in 2020. 

‘I sent the evidence to the deputy director. Then, when I heard nothing from him, I sent it to the director, who did not even bother to answer me. But then at least the deputy director [came back] with a claim that he’s done a very thorough investigation…

‘I can’t really show you the actual physical evidence that I sent them. But when you see it, you will realise immediately that there’s no innocent explanation here.’

A thief is believed to have operated for two decades inside the museum, exploiting its failure to catalogue all of its holdings.

The majority of objects appear to have been research items which were not on public display and easier to take unnoticed.

A ‘lack of proper cataloguing’ is said to have aided their removal. Some items are believed to have been melted down or had gems prised from their gold settings.

As many as 2,000 items are feared to be ‘missing, stolen or damaged’ from the British Museum’s vault.

Museum records show that among them are silver necklaces, ancient coins and over 500 ceramic fragments, The Times reports.

These missing and potentially stolen items, identified through a freedom of information request, are not currently subject to investigation.

Dr Higgs’ family insist he will be cleared of any involvement following his dismissal from the British Museum

The British Museum, pictured, said last Wednesday that a member of staff had been dismissed after an unknown number of small pieces – including gold, jewellery and gems of semi-precious stones and glass – were found to be ‘missing’

This Cartier diamond ring, pictured, went missing from the museum’s collection six years ago. It remains a mystery what happened to it

Mystery surrounds missing treasures from the British Museum, and there have been no arrests

Other lost pieces include wooden opium poppy scorers shape like burgs and frogs, in addition to green and blue glazed leaf pendants and beads.

A Greek silver coin acquired by the museum in 1948 also vanished, along with other coins from ancient Rome and medieval Germany in the year leading up to April 2014.

An Edwardian ring acquired by the institution in 2001 had also disappeared by 2017.

Elsewhere, a chain of ’round sectioned silver wire’ believed to originate from an Iron Age hoard buried in 100 BC and worth thousands of pounds has also gone missing.

Other lost jewels include a fragment of shale crescent which the museum acquired in 1963, a glazed bead in its collection since 1832, a ceramic lamp and a glass coin-weight.

Some 540 pieces of pottery known as ‘sherds’, dug up on archaeological sites, are also absent.

The number of lost items is likely to be far higher as the museum only provided data from 2013

In a statement, the British Museum said: “We take the issue of any missing items incredibly seriously. Losses are recorded and reported to the trustees on an annual basis.”

Martin Henig, a professor in archaeology at Oxford University, said: “If even more is missing [than we know], it may point to a bigger problem. Things should not be disappearing from the museum. There should be a proper audit.”

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