Antiquities dealer was ‘absolutely certain’ of thefts from British Museum

The antiquities dealer who first raised the alarm over thefts from the British Museum has said he was “absolutely certain” he was providing “incontrovertible” evidence, but his claims were initially dismissed by the institution.

Dr Ittai Gradel, who is also an academic and a collector, alerted the museum to his suspicions of thefts in 2021 but did not receive a reply for months and an initial internal investigation incorrectly concluded there was no basis to the claims.

It ultimately emerged some 2,000 items were found to be missing, damaged or stolen.

Dr Gradel told BBC Breakfast: “Initially the British Museum didn’t say anything. I waited for months and I wrote back to get an answer several times but it took, I think, five months before they finally replied that everything was was fine. Nothing was missing.”

Asked how certain he was that he was correct, Dr Gradel said: “I was absolutely certain, 100%, the evidence I sent them was incontrovertible. There was absolutely no mistaking it.

British Museum missing and stolen items
Some of a total of 626 items returned to the museum (British Museum/PA)

“The only alternative explanation would have been that I had actually falsified the documents I sent them, photoshopped them or something, because I was some attention-seeking nutter.”

The British Museum has since apologised to Dr Gradel and the director and deputy director left their posts.

Some 626 items have since been returned and BBC News reported the FBI is investigating the sale of possible British Museum treasures to US buyers.

The US law enforcement agency has also assisted with the return of 268 items, which the museum claims belong to it, that were sold to a collector in Washington DC, the BBC reported.

The British Museum declined to comment on the FBI’s involvement to the PA news agency.

Legal proceedings were launched in March against former curator Dr Peter Higgs, who was dismissed in July last year.

Dr Higgs, who worked within the department of Greece and Rome for more than 30 years, has been investigated by the Metropolitan Police but not charged.

The High Court heard Dr Higgs intends to dispute the claim and Mrs Justice Heather Williams ordered him to return any stolen items he may have.