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UK's British Museum says hundreds of stolen items recovered

By Agence France-Presse Published Oct 19, 2023 9:29 am

The British Museum in London has recovered 350 of approximately 2,000 artifacts believed to have been stolen from its collection by an ex-employee, chairman George Osborne said Wednesday, Oct. 18.

The storied museum, one of the UK capital's biggest tourist draws best known for housing the Rosetta Stone and the Parthenon Marbles, first revealed the thefts in August.

It has launched an appeal—including a webpage describing the types of missing items—urging the public to help recover them.

The museum has also dismissed a staff member suspected of involvement in what Osborne called "an inside job," and alerted police who have interviewed a person but made no arrests.

The museum plans to put the recovered items on display in a previously unplanned exhibition.

"We are intending to put on display the objects we have recovered—there is a lot of public interest in these objects," Osborne told MPs quizzing him about the thefts.

He said, "350 have now been recovered... so we have the makings of a good exhibition that was not previously planned."

Osborne, a former finance minister under ex-prime minister David Cameron, told lawmakers on parliament's culture watchdog committee the suspected thief had abused the museum's trust.

"We were the victims of an inside job by someone, we believe, who over a long period of time was stealing from the museum and the museum put trust in," he said.

"Quite a lot of steps were taken to conceal (thefts)... a lot of records were altered and the like," he added.

Osborne noted there were "lots of lessons to be learnt" as a result, and had prompted changes, including updating the museum's whistleblowing code and policy on thefts, as well as tightening up security.

The museum, whose director Hartwig Fischer resigned in August after admitting the institution did not act "as it should have" on warnings that items had gone missing, announced other reforms on Wednesday. 

It aims to increase access to the collection, and ensure everything is documented and available online.  

The five-year plan will for the first time make the entire collection comprising millions of items accessible to anyone who wants to explore it. (AFP)