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London police investigating alleged theft of gold, artifacts at British Museum


By Radina Gigova, CNN

(CNN) — An employee at the British Museum has been dismissed — and the Metropolitan Police has launched an investigation — after a number of items from the museum’s collection were found to be “missing, stolen or damaged,” the museum said in a statement Wednesday.

“The British Museum has launched an independent review of security after items from the collection were found to be missing, stolen or damaged. A member of staff has been dismissed, and the Museum will now be taking legal action against the individual,” the museum said. “The matter is also under investigation by the Economic Crime Command of the Metropolitan Police.”

“We have been working alongside the British Museum. There is currently an ongoing investigation — there is no arrest and enquiries continue,” the Metropolitan Police told CNN. “We will not be providing any further information at this time,” it added.

The majority of the items were “small pieces kept in a storeroom” belonging to one of the museum’s collections. “They include gold jewelry and gems of semi-precious stones and glass dating from the 15th century BC to the 19th century AD,” the museum said, adding none of the items had recently been on public display, and were kept mostly for academic and research purposes.

Hartwig Fischer, the British Museum’s director, said the incident is “highly unusual.”

“The Museum apologizes for what has happened, but we have now brought an end to this — and we are determined to put things right,” Fischer said. “We have already tightened our security arrangements and we are working alongside outside experts to complete a definitive account of what is missing, damaged and stolen.”

“The Trustees of the British Museum were extremely concerned when we learnt earlier this year that items of the collection had been stolen. The Trustees have taken decisive action to deal with the situation, working with the team at the Museum,” said George Osborne, chair of the British Museum.

“We called in the police, imposed emergency measures to increase security, set up an independent review into what happened and lessons to learn, and used all the disciplinary powers available to us to deal with the individual we believe to be responsible,” he said.

Osborne said the museum’s current priorities are to first recover the stolen items, find out what could have been done to stop those actions, and “to do whatever it takes, with investment in security and collection records, to make sure this doesn’t happen again.”

“It’s a sad day for all who love our British Museum, but we’re determined to right the wrongs and use the experience to build a stronger Museum,” Osborne said.

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