The British Museum has dismissed a staff member after a number of antique gems from its collection were discovered to be missing, stolen, or damaged.
The museum said the missing items were kept in a storeroom and used primarily for academic and research purposes. They included gold jewelry and gems with semiprecious stones and glass, dating from the 15th century B.C. to the 19th century. None had recently been on public display.
According to GBN, several of the stolen pieces were later seen being sold on eBay, where they were being offered for as little as £40.
“The museum believes [the fired staffer] to be guilty of stealing tens of millions of pounds worth of items,” GBN wrote.
Sky News reported that Oxford University Professor Martin Henig, a specialist in engraved gems, first alerted the museum to the possible thefts after he and a colleague spotted a private dealer selling part of an ancient signet ring, believed to part of the museum’s collection.
“The number of [stolen] items must be quite large because it seems to have been going on for a long time,” Henig said.
The museum’s statement did not reveal the staffer’s name and job title, but several U.K. news sources identified the person as a senior curator who had worked at the museum for 30 years. The accusations sparked an angry denial from the man’s son.
In a statement, museum chair George Osborne called it a “sad day for all who love our British Museum.
“Our priority is now threefold: first, to recover the stolen items; second, to find out what, if anything, could have been done to stop this; and third, to do whatever it takes, with investment in security and collection records, to make sure this doesn’t happen again,” he said.
London’s Metropolitan Police told CBS News they were investigating the matter, said no arrests had been made, and declined further comment.
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