British Museum deputy director to leave after theft inquiry

It comes after some 2,000 items were found to be missing, damaged or stolen.

British Museum deputy director Jonathan Williams to leave after theft inquiry PA Media

The deputy director of the British Museum “will be leaving” after thefts at the institution, it has been announced.

Jonathan Williams had agreed to step back while head of the British Museum Hartwig Fischer resigned in the wake of a scandal over stolen artefacts in August that prompted a police investigation.

On Wednesday, a spokesperson for the British Museum confirmed: “Jonathan Williams will be leaving the museum.”

The announcement comes a day after an independent review was published into the estimated 2,000 items from the collection, worth millions of pounds, which were found to be missing, stolen or damaged.

Mr Williams’ departure will follow in the footsteps of former director Mr Fischer, who resigned stating that responsibility for the failure “must ultimately rest with the director”.

The museum later appointed Sir Mark Jones as interim director.

The review published on Tuesday said the museum was alerted to suspicions of thefts in 2021 by academic and antiquities dealer Dr Ittai Gradel, but an initial investigation incorrectly concluded there was no basis to the claims.

Later that year, a spot check by internal audit revealed an item not in its proper location within the Greece and Rome strongroom, leading to a wider audit of the strongroom as well as the Greece and Rome jewellery and gem collection.

The audit, which began in April 2022, subsequently revealed further evidence of missing objects.

An unnamed member of staff has been sacked and the museum is taking legal action, while a police investigation is under way.

The review, led by Sir Nigel Boardman, Chief Constable Lucy D’Orsi and Deputy High Court Judge Ian Karet, said that of the 2,000 items, some 1,500 are missing or stolen. Around 350 items have had portions removed, such as gold mounts for gems.

Museum officials believe these portions are likely to be unrecoverable because they have probably been sold for scrap, the report adds.

Around 140 items have been damaged by tool marks.

Of the 1,500 missing or stolen items, 351 items have already been returned and more than 300 further items have been identified.

More than a third of the published recommendations are already under way or completed, the British Museum said, including a plan to complete the documentation and digitisation of the entire collection within the next five years.

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