Some of the near 2,000 items stolen from British Museum have now been recovered, chairman George Osborne has said.
The former chancellor apologised for the scandal, and admitted it had caused the institution reputational damage – vowing to “clear up the mess”.
“On behalf of the British Museum, I want to apologise for what has happened,” Mr Osborne told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
“We believe we’ve been the victim of thefts over a long period of time and, frankly, more could have been done to prevent them.
“But I promise you this: it is a mess that we are going to clear up. I can tell you today that we’ve already started to recover some of the stolen items.”
The former minister said an independent review will look at “how the museum missed some of the signals that could have been picked up”, despite it being told by an antiquities dealer that items were being sold on eBay in 2021.
Mr Osborne was speaking after the museum’s director resigned in the wake of the scandal.
Hartwig Fischer said the situation is “of the utmost seriousness” and he has “sadly come to the conclusion” that his presence is “proving a distraction”.
It was announced later the same day the museum’s deputy director, Jonathan Williams, had “agreed to voluntarily step back from his normal duties”.
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British Museum boss quits over ‘thefts’
That will be the case “until the independent review into the thefts at the museum has concluded”, the museum said.
Mr Osborne told the BBC: “I don’t myself believe there was a sort of deliberate cover-up, although the review may find that to be the case.
“But was there some potential groupthink in the museum at the time, at the very top of the museum, that just couldn’t believe that an insider was stealing things, couldn’t believe that one of the members of staff were doing this? Yes, that’s very possible.”
Police in London said in the week a man had been interviewed in connection with the alleged thefts, but added no arrests had been made and officers would work “closely” with the institution.
Written by: Newsroom