Tuesday 22 August 2023

A Timeline of the 2023 British Museum Antiquities Heist

Details are emerging of the "British Museum gems heist" in dribs and drabs, almost as if there is a cncerted effort not to present the whole story to the British public so that they can see what was (is) going on, first a vague story of the theft itself, offhand mention of a staff dismissal, then names and dates start to emerge in different papers at different times. The latest is the Daily Mail (******). Jason Felch (@ChasingAphrodit) in a series of tweets has put together what we know on Tuesday morning of events as reported. I would like to set his findings of what we know at present out in a continuous sequence for future reference (as I strongly suspect there will be future developments): Chasing Aphrodite. The Daily Mail says that the "British Museum kept the disappearance of multi-million pound* artefacts a secret for more than eight months after alerting the police in January"

With the latest reporting we now have a basic chronology for the BM thefts. Let's take a look:

2016: eBay user “Sultan1966” is noted selling cameos formerly from BM’s Towneley Collection.
[PMB: in press material, a screenshot of a single sale has emerged dated August 2016, apparently made in Denmark but with the eBay sale number missing, apparently showing an eBay sale by 'sultan1966' of a Townley gem - what is its origin?]
[PMB: Dorothy Löbel 19th August: "In August 2016 this gem was supposedly briefly listed by the same seller Sultan1966 on eBay (there is no eBay inventory number in the screenshot). It matches a photo of a gem in the BM’s database https://britishmuseum.org/collection/object/G_1923-0401-964 The dealer (sic) claims he immediately recognised it as one of the Townley gems, and as from the British Museum. The problem is … he didn’t bother to tell the British Museum until 2021. The BM have been investigat[ing] since then. And he bought another item off the seller in 2018"].
[PMB Dorothy Löbel also showed another but undated screenshot of other gems allegedly sold by the eBay dealer "sultan1966', (but without stating where they were from) and noted: "The vast majority of the gems listed on eBay before 2016 by a man calling himself Paul Higgins and using the handle Sultan1966 were like this:" - who obtained this information and how, from the seller's eBay page?]
February 28 2021: Dr Ittai Gradel alerted the British Museum.
BM deputy director Jonathan Williams receives "correspondence dating to February 2021 in which Mr Williams was alerted to the thefts."

Reportedly, the police were not notified for nearly TWO YEARS:
BM only alerted the Metropolitan Police in Jan 2023

Reportedly, the BM Trustees were not notified for nearly TWO YEARS.

BM Chair George Osborne suggests trustees also learned in Jan 2023: "we learnt earlier this year that items of the collection had been stolen..."
'We called in the police, imposed emergency measures to increase security, set up an independent review into what happened..."

7 months pass. Presumably an internal probe is conducted.

Then, in July 2023, the BM's Greek curator Peter Higgs is quietly dismissed.
[PMB: there seem to be no official announcements or mentions of this in the press, Higgs' name has disappeared from the list of staff at the BM. At the end of Jan. 2023 Professor Thomas Harrison was apointed as Keeper of the Department of Greece and Rome at the British Museum. at some stage prior to May 2023, Higgs had been referred to as "acting keeper of the Department of Greece and Rome at the British Museum", for several years before that several sources refer to him as "curator' of the same].
In in July 2023, BM director Hartwig Fischer announced that he would be leaving in 2024 [BBC Hartwig Fischer to leave British Museum director role 28 July 2023 ].
The Museum has denied a link between the two events.

[Aug 16, 2023: The police visit Mr Higgs' home (Mirror, , 17 Aug 2023), "Neighbours described seeing police officers at Mr Higgs' property on Wednesday morning. One said: "I saw two or three, heavy set uniformed police here yesterday morning... they were going into the house between 0700 and 0800. I could see they had Police on the back of their flak jackets but I had no idea what they were doing here." A Met Police spokesperson said no arrests had been made". This rather sounds as if there had been no previous visits, despite it being reported that the police were involved in some kind of an investigation since January - if so, why did they appear at the home of the person they are investigating so late, and just a day before the termination of his employment at the BM was announced? Fishy.]
Aug 17 2023
: BM announces thefts and dismissal of Higgs. Museum appoints an former trustee and police official to conduct an independent probe. [Anon sources tell reporters that police had previously advised the museum not to go public with information about the thefts].

[August 17 2023: "A spokesperson for the British Museum said [...] that 'no other person is currently under investigation by the Museum'. 

Jason Felch is most concerned (as was the Mail article) about the slow progress of information:

[Felch] "So, three big gaps need to be explained:

2016 discovery of Sultan1966 sales > 2021 report to BM deputy director

2021 report to deputy director > 2023 notice to police and trustees

Jan 2023 notice to trust and police > Aug 2023 trustees notification of public

[Felch] Of those gaps, the most troubling to me is the second: How could BM's senior leadership wait TWO YEARS to tell the police (and trustees) about credible evidence of thefts by a curator? Were additional items stolen or sold during these two years?"


De. William Shephard said...

Well well, here I am again, fresh from a wonderful day the majority of which was spent inside the majestic confines of Chester Cathedral and a small proportion wasted destroying an ill-educated Biblical believer who, after roughly three minutes, excused himself and left. A victory for architecture. a defeat for the supernatural.

Paul Barford said...

Eh? Your point?

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