UK

British Museum recovers 268 more missing objects after thefts

The London museum says a total of 626 items out of around 1,500 missing or stolen objects have been found in an announcement on Friday.

Recovered gems (British Museum)
Recovered gems (British Museum) (Yui Mok/PA)

The British Museum has recovered 268 more missing objects following thefts at the institution.

The museum announced on Friday that a total of 626 items, out of around 1,500 missing or stolen objects, have been found across the world – including in Europe and North America – and taken back to be housed in its London collection.

A last update from the body in February stated that more than 350 artefacts had been returned after the objects, which included classical Greek and Roman gems and jewellery, were taken.

George Osborne said the team at the museum had refused to give up in the search for the objects
George Osborne said the team at the museum had refused to give up in the search for the objects (Ian West/PA)

Chairman of the British Museum trustees and former Chancellor George Osborne said: “Few expected to see this day, and even I had my doubts.

“When we announced the devastating news that objects had been stolen from our collection, people understandably assumed that was it – we were unlikely to ever see more than a handful of them again. That’s usually the history with thefts like this.

“But the team at the British Museum refused to give up. Through clever detective work and a network of well-wishers we’ve achieved a remarkable result: more than 600 of the objects are back with us, and a further 100 have been identified – in total almost half the stolen items that we could recover.

Ten of the gems on display as part of the Rediscovering Gems exhibition
Ten of the gems on display as part of the Rediscovering Gems exhibition (Lucy North/PA)

“It’s a great result but we’re not resting here – the hunt goes on for the remaining missing objects. I urge anyone with any information to follow the example of all who’ve helped us and get in touch.”

There are also around 500 artefacts that have been damaged, which includes an estimated 350 objects having gold removed and around 140 being harmed by tools.

Following the furore over the thefts being disclosed in August 2023, the director of the museum Hartwig Fischer resigned, and was replaced by former Victoria and Albert Museum head Sir Mark Jones in the interim.

In March, outgoing National Portrait Gallery director Nicholas Cullinan was announced as the permanent director of the British Museum.

Recovered gems. (British Museum)
Recovered gems. (British Museum)

The institution is continuing to display some of the recovered gems to the public through the exhibition Rediscovering Gems until June 15 in room three.

Legal proceedings were launched in March against former curator Dr Peter Higgs, who was dismissed in July last year.

Dr Higgs, who worked within the Department of Greece and Rome for more than 30 years, and who has been investigated by the Metropolitan Police but not charged, did not attend the hearing at the High Court in London due to poor health.

The court heard that Dr Higgs intends to dispute the claim and Mrs Justice Heather Williams ordered him to return any stolen items he may have.