British Museum chairman George Osborne says ‘groupthink’ was to blame for inaction after ‘around 2000’ items were pinched from the museum’s collection
- Recovery of items is now under way following the thefts of valuable artefacts
- READ MORE: How expert turned sleuth unmasked astonishing extent of thefts
British Museum chairman George Osborne has pledged that the institution is ‘cleaning up its mess’ as it recovers some of the 2,000 items stolen from its vast collection.
The former chancellor said there is ‘a silver lining to a dark cloud’ as he confirmed the recovery of items is under way following the thefts of valuable artefacts.
However, Mr Osborne yesterday admitted that ‘more could have been done to prevent’ the thefts and blamed ‘groupthink’ for action not being taken earlier.
He said the museum believes ‘around 2,000’ items were stolen including jewellery, gold and semi-precious gems, and acknowledged the scandal had been ‘damaging’ to the museum’s reputation.
It comes after its director Hartwig Fischer announced on Friday that he would step down with ‘immediate effect’, conceding that responsibility for failing to act on earlier alerts by whistleblowers rests with him.
Chairman George Osborne (pictured) has now vowed to ‘clear up’ the British Museum mess
The museum has come under scrutiny after it emerged that senior curator and expert in ancient Greek artefacts Peter Higgs (pictured) – who denies any wrongdoing – had allegedly stolen valuable objects over a number of years
READ MORE: How expert turned sleuth to unmask the astonishing extent of British Museum thefts by snapping up the precious items on eBay then presenting bosses with damning dossier of evidence
Deputy director Jonathan Williams has stepped back until an independent review has concluded.
The museum has come under scrutiny after it emerged that senior curator and expert in ancient Greek artefacts Peter Higgs – who denies any wrongdoing – had allegedly stolen valuable objects over a number of years.
Though Mr Higgs was sacked earlier this year, the museum has been questioned for failing to act when whistleblower and Danish antiquities dealer Ittai Gradel raised the alarm in February 2021.
Dr Gradel had found that items from its collections were being sold on eBay for as little as £40, yet museum heads said they had investigated it and found ‘no thefts’.
Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Mr Osborne said: ‘On behalf of the British Museum I want to apologise for what has happened. Frankly, more could have been done to prevent the thefts.
But I promise you this, it is a mess that we are going to clear up. In February 2021 Dr Gradel contacted the museum and alleged to the fact that thefts were happening… and he identified the individual.
‘The museum at the time looked into it, claimed to have conducted a thorough investigation, and said there were no thefts. And that’s, obviously, completely wrong.’
He did not believe there had been a ‘deliberate cover-up’, but added: ‘Was there some potential groupthink at the time at the top of the museum that just couldn’t believe that an insider was stealing things? Yes, that’s very possible.’
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