A member of staff at the British Museum has been sacked after jewellery and gems from its collection were found to be “missing, stolen or damaged”.
In a statement, the museum said the items included “gold jewellery and gems of semi-precious stones and glass dating from the 15th Century BC to the 19th Century AD”.
The majority were “small pieces kept in a storeroom belonging to one of the museum’s collections”, officials said.
They were kept primarily for academic and research purposes and none had recently been on public display.
The museum will be “taking legal action against the individual” and the Metropolitan Police’s economic and crime command is investigating, the museum said.
“This is a highly unusual incident,” said director Hartwig Fischer.
Security has already been tightened, he added, and the museum is “working alongside outside experts to complete a definitive account of what is missing, damaged and stolen”.
Former trustee Sir Nigel Boardman and British Transport Police Chief Constable Lucy D’Orsi will be leading an independent review and will make recommendations on future security arrangements.
Sir Nigel said: “The British Museum has been the victim of theft and we are absolutely determined to use our review in order to get to the bottom of what happened and ensure lessons are learnt. We are working alongside the Metropolitan Police.”
Former chancellor George Osborne, who chairs the British Museum, said the trustees were “extremely concerned when we learned earlier this year that items of the collection had been stolen”.
He added: “We called in the police, imposed emergency measures to increase security, set up an independent review into what happened and lessons to learn, and used all the disciplinary powers available to us to deal with the individual we believe to be responsible.
“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.”