'British Museum can't be trusted with the Elgin Marbles,' says Greece

MP accuses Greeks of ‘blatant opportunism’ in demanding Elgin Marbles be returned after thousands of artefacts in British Museum were lost or stolen

  • British Museum continues to deal with the fallout after the theft and sale of items
  • MP blasted Greece’s ‘blatant opportunism’ as it ordered return of Elgin Marbles  

An MP has accused Greece of ‘blatant opportunism’ after it demanded the return of the Elgin Marbles from the beleaguered British Museum. 

The museum continues to deal with the disastrous fallout after last week it emerged as many as 2,000 precious items were stolen and sold online, or otherwise damaged. 

An internal investigation led the museum to sack Peter Higgs, 56, a curator of Mediterranean cultures who had been with them for over 30 years.  

The head of the Association of Greek Archaeologists, Despina Koutsoumba, 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.’

The British Museum worker sacked over missing priceless treasures was named as Peter Higgs, 56, a curator who had been with them for over 30 years

A plasma gem engraved with a portrait head of a young Roman in profile is among the items taken from the British Museum

Head of the Association of Greek Archaeologists, Despina Koutsoumba, said her colleagues are ‘worried’ about how many Greek items are missing

Tim Loughton, chairman of the British Museum All-Party Parliamentary Group, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that news of items going missing from the museum’s collection in London is ‘damaging’ but the institution is taking the thefts ‘seriously’


Tim Loughton, chairman of the British Museum All-Party Parliamentary Group accused Greece of ‘blatant opportunism’ in claiming the institution is ‘not safe’ following thefts from the museum.

Mr Loughton told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that news of items going missing from the museum’s collection in London is ‘damaging’ but the institution is taking the thefts ‘seriously’.

The MP, who has been in touch with the museum, 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.’

The museum has not stated how many items have been stolen or provided their details, saying only that they 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 thefts are understood to have happened over two decades.

Mr Loughton said: ‘What is particularly damaging is (the) blatant opportunism of the Greeks and others saying ‘Oh no, the British Museum is not safe…’ It’s incredibly rare that things go missing.’

Greece has been campaigning for decades for the return of the Parthenon Sculptures, otherwise known as the Elgin Marbles, 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.

Christopher Marinello, a lawyer and expert in recovering stolen art, told the PA news agency that the theft exposes the museum to questions over the safety of the ancient sculptures.

The 2,500-year-old Elgin Marbles are classed among the wonders of Ancient Greece

The sculptures are said to have been ruthlessly seized from the Parthenon in Athens in 1801 by henchmen working for British art collector Lord Elgin 

Museum curator Dr Peter Higgs in a 2018 Facebook post wearing an ancient mask

One of the gems believed to have been stolen from the British Museum, pictured in its broken state


He said: ‘It makes one wonder whether the Parthenon Marbles are safe in the British Museum after all, and perhaps they should be returned to the museum in Athens for their security.’

Mr Loughton was also asked about emails leaked to BBC News that claim the British Museum was alerted to the thefts in 2021 and ignored the report.

He said: ‘With respect, all that’s come out is a few emails rather than the bigger picture.

‘But the British Museum will need to account for that because if people are trying to report potential objects having appeared outside of the museum then absolutely those need to be investigated and potentially referred to the police.

‘So what action was taken? What checks and balances are there at the museum?

‘Also putting into context… the British Museum has the most online documentation online in the world. There are over two million objects available online to see.’

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

Higgs’ family insist he will be cleared following his dismissal from the British Museum

Mr Higgs had worked there for 35 years until earlier this year. His family insist he is innocent

The British Museum said on Wednesday that a member of staff had been dismissed after an unknown number of small pieces – including gold, jewellery and gems of semi-precious stones and glass – were found to be ‘missing, stolen or damaged’. Pictured: Visitors are pictured in the Great Court at the British Museum in London 

This Cartier diamond ring, pictured, went missing from the museum’s collection six years ago. It remains a mystery what happened to it. The Police has not said what has gone missing

Mystery surrounds thefts of treasures from The British Museum but there have not been any arrests despite a member of staff getting the sack

No arrests have been made.

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

Questions have also been raised over the Museum’s handling of the thefts and how long senior management was aware before action was taken.

The museum has strenuously denied claims of a ‘cover-up’ after it was reported managers were warned two years ago that items were being taken from the collection and sold. 

The Telegraph reports that whistleblower Dr Ittai Gradel, a Danish art dealer, contacted the museum’s deputy director Dr Jonathan Williams in 2021 with concerns that items were being stolen.

Dr Gradel claims that Dr Williams had ‘basically told me to get lost’ and asserted that the ‘collection is protected’.

Undeterred, Dr Gradel also contacted the museum director Dr Hartwig Fischer, who stated there was ‘no evidence to substantiate the allegations’.

The furore is likely to place pressure on both of the museum’s senior leaders. Dr Fischer is due to step down in 2024 but there are suggestions he may be called upon to go immediately.

Dr Williams, previously seen as a probable successor in Mr Fischer’s role, is facing similar pressure. 

Eventually, Dr Gradel refused to have his concerns cast aside and contacted the museum’s trustees as well as its chairman, former Chancellor George Osborne, in January, who took personal charge of the matter.

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