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Tory MP accuses Greece of 'opportunism' for suggesting British Museum isn't safe after thefts

Last week the museum announced that items from its collection were found to be ‘missing, stolen or damaged’.

LAST UPDATE | 23 Aug 2023

THE CHAIR OF the British Museum All-Party Parliamentary Group has accused Greece of “blatant opportunism” after thefts at the London institution.

The British Museum announced last week that items from its collection were found to be “missing, stolen or damaged” and police are investigating.

Legal action is being taken by the museum against an unnamed member of staff, who has been sacked.

Conservative MP Tim Loughton told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that items going missing from the museum’s collection in London is “damaging” but the institution is taking the thefts “seriously”.

Loughton added: “For reassurance, people want to know the extent of the objects which have disappeared, what investigations took place at the time when various reports came in and what is being done now because otherwise (it’s) getting out of hand.”

“What is particular damaging is blatant opportunism of the Greeks and others saying ‘Oh no, the British Museum is not safe…’ It’s incredibly rare that things go missing.”

The number of stolen artefacts from the museum is “closer to 2,000” with the total value of missing pieces thought to run into “millions of pounds”, reports have said.

Legal action is being taken by the museum against the individual and police are investigating but no arrests have been made.

The museum has not specified how many items have been stolen or detailed what the missing items are, saying only that were “small pieces” including “gold jewellery and gems of semi-precious stones and glass dating from the 15th century BC to the 19th century AD.”

The artefacts have not recently been on public display and were kept in a storeroom, mainly used for research and academic work, the museum previously said.

It appears “increasingly likely” that the museum might never know exactly what has been stolen because of “gaps in its inventory,” the paper said.

An independent review of security has been launched and the matter is also under investigation by the economic crime command of the Metropolitan Police.

No arrests have been made.

The review will be led by former museum trustee Nigel Boardman and Lucy D’Orsi, Chief Constable of British Transport Police.

The British Museum declined to comment while the police investigation is on-going.

However, a museum source told the Telegraph that the directorate’s handling of the case has been “negligent and incompetent” and that evidence presented to them was ignored.

An antiquities expert reportedly told the museum three years ago that items from its collection were being offered for sale on eBay, with one Roman object, valued at £25,000 to £50,000 by dealers, offered for just £40.

Greece has been campaigning for decades for the return of the Parthenon Sculptures, which once adorned the Parthenon atop the Acropolis in Athens.

The country has long claimed they were illegally acquired during a period of foreign occupation, while British officials have rebuffed repeated demands for their return.

Media reports in Greece at the end of last year suggested that the Greek prime minister was in the “advanced stage” of “secret talks” over the “possible return” of the Parthenon Marbles.

Meanwhile, the head of the Association of Greek Archaeologists, Despina Koutsoumba, today said her colleagues are “worried” about how many Greek items are missing.

She told the BBC: “We want to tell the British Museum that they cannot anymore say that Greek culture heritage is more protected in the British Museum.

“It is obvious that it is very well protected in Greece and not in the British Museum.”

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