British Museum Was Warned Gems Were Being Sold on eBay, Emails Show


In the week since the news of the thefts broke, the case has been the subject of heated speculation in the British news media, with daily articles conjecturing over how many artifacts had been lost, and who was responsible.

Erin Thompson, a specialist in art crime at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, said it was unusual for a major museum to go public with details of internal losses. “Normally, it’s kept under wraps,” she said. She said she hoped that other museums would follow the British Museum’s example and be more open in future.

Other experts said the museum should have acted more quickly. Dick Ellis, the former head of Scotland Yard’s art and antiquities squad, said he was shocked the museum appeared to take so little action in the two years since the alarm was raised.

To uncover what had happened, Mr. Ellis said, the British Museum would first need to ascertain what exactly had gone missing; then the police would need to get records from eBay or other auction sites to ascertain details about any completed or attempted sales. Then, Mr. Ellis added, the police would need to contact the items’ buyers. If any buyers were based outside Britain, that could hamper inquiries.

Some similar investigations have lasted years without coming to a resolution. In 2020, Dirk Obbink, a former University of Oxford scholar, was arrested on suspicion of stealing and selling ancient papyri. He was released without charges as the Thames Valley Police continued to investigate, and a spokesman said this week that there had been no recent advancements in the case.

Last week, the British Museum announced a new independent review, led by Nigel Boardman, a former museum trustee, and Lucy D’Orsi, a British police official, to look into the thefts and make recommendations regarding future security arrangements. The British Museum spokeswoman said the organization would publish the results of the review, which is scheduled to be completed this year.

POST AUTHOR: Alex Marshall

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