The director of the British Museum has resigned following alleged thefts of artefacts from the institution.
Hartwig Fischer said the situation is “of the utmost seriousness” and he has “sadly come to the conclusion” that his presence is “proving a distraction”.
The museum earlier sacked a senior curator after close to 2,000 artefacts, worth millions of pounds, were believed to have been stolen.
Mr Fischer, a German art historian, said it was “evident that the British Museum did not respond as comprehensively as it should have” in response to “warnings in 2021” about a problem that has now “fully emerged”.
“The responsibility for that failure must ultimately rest with the director,” he said.
Image: Hartwig Fischer said his presence was ‘proving a distraction’ Earlier this week it emerged that a man had been interviewed by the Metropolitan Police following the alleged thefts.
Dr Ittai Gradel, a Roman antiquities expert who had concerns and tried to warn the museum, said Mr Fischer had “done the right thing, the honourable thing, and he deserves credit for that at least”.
But it has been a difficult period, he added.
Dr Gradel told Sky News: “It has been very, very hard, especially those wasted two years when I banged my head against the British Museum’s wall and I just couldn’t get people to listen, despite the fact that the evidence I had gathered was absolutely incontrovertible.”
He added: “No innocent explanation was even remotely possible for the evidence I sent them, and yet it was ignored, and I never understood it.
“I still don’t fully understand how this was possible, or how they could behave like that. It has been incredibly frustrating.”
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In his resignation statement, Mr Fischer said he had “misjudged” some comments he made about Dr Gradel.
He said: “I wish to express my sincere regret and withdraw those remarks.”
Mr Fischer previously said an “individual who raised concerns” had “many more items in his possession”.
He added: “It’s frustrating that that was not revealed to us as it would have aided our investigations.”
Dr Gradel said he had considered taking legal advice but said Mr Fischer “has now retracted those comments and apologised to me and I accept that”.
Former chancellor George Osborne, who chairs the museum’s trustees, said “no one has ever doubted Hartwig’s integrity, his dedication to his job, or his love for the museum”.
He added: “I am clear about this: we are going to fix what has gone wrong. The museum has a mission that lasts across generations. We will learn, restore confidence and deserve to be admired once again.”