British Museum obtains court order against ex-curator over alleged thefts

By Thomson Reuters Mar 26, 2024 | 10:46 AM

By Sam Tobin

LONDON (Reuters) – A London court on Tuesday ordered a former curator at the British Museum accused of stealing hundreds of artefacts to provide the museum with a list of all items he is suspected of taking and to return those still in his possession.

The museum, one of the most visited in the world, reported in August that hundreds of items had been stolen from its collection or were missing, highlighting internal organisational failings and leading to the exit of its director.

Peter Higgs, the museum’s curator of Ancient Greek collections and the acting head of the Greece and Rome department, was sacked after the alleged thefts came to light.

He is currently under police investigation but has not been charged. The British Museum has brought a civil lawsuit against Higgs and it said he had filed a defence which showed he intended to dispute the claim.

Higgs was not represented at the hearing at London’s High Court on Tuesday, but lawyers acting for him in relation to the criminal investigation were present. They declined to comment.

The British Museum, which holds treasures such as the Rosetta Stone and the Parthenon marbles, has said the stolen items included gold rings, earrings and other pieces of jewellery dating back to ancient Greek and Roman periods.

The museum’s lawyer Daniel Burgess said in court documents: “While the full extent of the thefts is unknown, it is presently believed that over 1,800 items were stolen or damaged and that many hundreds of them were sold or offered for sale by (Higgs).”

Burgess added that Higgs tried to “cover his tracks by, among other things, using false names, creating false documents and manipulating records held on the Museum’s IT systems”.

The British Museum has had 356 items returned so far, Burgess said.

Judge Heather Williams granted the museum an order requiring Higgs to return items he may still have and provide information about the whereabouts of missing items or their proceeds.

(Reporting by Sam Tobin; Editing by Nick Macfie)