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British Museum Was Warned Gems Were Being Sold on eBay, Emails Show

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In the weeks since news of the theft broke, the case has been the subject of heated speculation in the British press, with daily articles speculating about how many artifacts were missing and who was responsible.

Erin Thompson, an art crime expert at New York’s John Jay College of Criminal Justice, said it’s unusual for a major museum to release details of internal damage. “Usually, it’s wrapped,” he said. He said he hoped other museums would follow the British Museum’s example and become more open in the future.

Other experts say the museum should have acted more quickly. Dick Ellis, former head of Scotland Yard’s art and antiquities squad, said he was shocked the museum had taken so little action in the two years since the alarm was raised.

To uncover what happened, Mr Ellis said, the British Museum must first find out exactly what went missing; Police should then obtain records from eBay or other auction sites to confirm details of any completed or attempted sales. Then, Mr. Ellis added, police should contact the buyers of the items. If a buyer is outside the UK, this may hinder the investigation.

Some similar investigations have lasted years without coming to a resolution. In 2020, former Oxford University scholar Dirk Obinck was arrested on suspicion of stealing and selling ancient papyri. He was released without charge as Thames Valley Police continued their investigation and a spokesman said this week that there had been no recent developments in the case.

Last week, the British Museum announced a new independent review, led by Nigel Boardman, a former museum trustee, and Lucy D’Orsay, a British police officer, to look into the theft and make recommendations on future security measures. A spokesman for the British Museum said the agency would publish the results of the review, which is expected to be completed this year.

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