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British Museum was told three years ago that staff member was selling stolen artefacts on eBay


Three years ago the British Museum was told a member of staff was stealing items from its collection after priceless items were offered for sale on eBay as early as 2016.

An antiquities expert became suspicious after seeing a piece of Roman jewelry on the online auction site and tracked the seller down to the museum’s antiquities department.

Despite notifying senior museum staff in 2020, the expert was appalled that no action was taken until earlier this year, when the staff member in question was fired.

Police are now investigating the theft of a series of objects dating between 1500 B.C. C. and the XIX century d. C., but the revelation raises serious questions for the museum, which is now in a race to recover the items before they can be out of reach.

Art world sources told The Telegraph that the thief began selling items on eBay that were not registered with the museum, meaning it would have been nearly impossible to prove they were stolen from the world-famous institution.

Thief got ‘sloppy’

Starting in 2016, or possibly even earlier, semi-precious gems and glassware, mostly from the Towneley collection of Greco-Roman artifacts donated by an 18th-century landowner, were put up for sale.

But the thief became “sloppy,” according to a source, and began selling items that had been cataloged by the museum and easily verified against its online inventory.

They included a fragment of Roman jewelry showing a man’s head in profile, and a similar piece, known as a cameo, with the portrait of a young Roman etched into a plasma gem.

The seller was using a pseudonym similar to his real name, but his Paypal account was linked to an account under the real name of the British Museum staff member, whose Twitter handle was almost identical to the Paypal reference. On Twitter, the thief used his real name.

The expert, who does not want to be named, contacted the eBay seller in 2016 and challenged him, suggesting he knew his real name and identity, but the seller claimed that eBay had made a mistake in its details and denied working at the museum. .

Then, in June 2020, the expert contacted an intermediary and asked him to pass his findings on to the museum.


In October of that year, he wrote to a British academic to express his frustration that nothing was happening.

He suggested at the time that the museum “may not be interested in knowing” because the thefts would be “hugely embarrassing” for them.

A museum spokesperson said: “We have conducted a thorough investigation, identified the person we believe to be responsible and that person has been fired.

“We are also taking more aggressive steps to ensure this never happens again. The whole issue of museum thefts is now subject to criminal investigation, so we cannot comment further.”

On Wednesday, the museum announced it had fired a staff member after a series of thefts of gold jewelry, semi-precious stones and glass dating back years.

George Osborne, the former chancellor who is now president of the museum, has promoted an independent review that will try to recover the gems, find out what went wrong and increase security to prevent it from happening again.

The review will look at whether the museum responded quickly enough when it became aware of the thefts and whether police were contacted as soon as possible.

The robberies are being investigated by the Metropolitan Police, which to date have not made any arrests in the case.

Hartwig Fischer, the museum’s director, issued a public apology for the loss of the items.

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