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British Museum sues former curator over stolen artifacts

March 26, 2024

A former curator at one of the most famous galleries in the world was accused of abusing his position to steal antiquities dating from the 15th century B.C. to the 19th century A.D.

Visitors view the Parthenon Sculptures, also known as the Elgin Marbles, at the British Museum in London
The British Museum is one of London's top tourist drawsImage: DANIEL LEAL/AFP via Getty Images

The British Museum sued a former curator on Tuesday, alleging that he stole hundreds of artifacts from its collections and offered them for sale online.

Peter Higgs was fired last year in July after the museum discovered that more than 1,800 artifacts were stolen or missing.

The museum, one of the most well-funded and famous galleries in the world, found itself at the eye of a storm after gold jewelry and semi-precious stones dating from the 15th century B.C. to the 19th century A.D. were declared stolen or missing early last year.

The director of the museum also resigned last year, saying he "did not respond as comprehensively" as he should have since the museum was alerted to missing items in 2021.

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Higgs abused 'position of trust' 

Peter Higgs "abused his position of trust" to steal ancient gems and other pieces from storerooms over the course of a decade, said lawyers for the museum. 

"The items that have been stolen from the museum are of cultural and historical significance," museum lawyer Daniel Burgess said in written legal arguments.

Burgess said the defendant tried to "cover his tracks" by using fake names, creating false documents, manipulating the museum's records and selling artifacts at less than their value.

High Court judge Heather Williams ordered Higgs to list or return any items in his possession within four weeks. She also ordered the disclosure of his eBay and PayPal records. 

The museum says it has recovered 356 of the missing items so far, and hopes to get more back. Higgs did not attend Tuesday's hearing due to poor health, lawyers said. He denies the allegations and intends to dispute the museum's legal claim.

Higgs has not been charged with a crime, and a separate police investigation into him is also ongoing.

rm/lo (Reuters, AP)