British Museum worker sacked after treasures vanished named as senior curator

British Museum worker sacked after treasures vanished named as senior curator

A senior curator who worked at the British Museum for 30 years has been sacked after jewellery and gems vanished from the museum, his son said on Thursday.

The son of Peter John Higgs, 56, said he was dismissed this summer after gems worth tens of millions of pounds went missing from the museum.

Mr Higgs, who worked as the museum’s curator of Greek collections, Greek culture and the Hellenistic period, has not been arrested.

He is an expert on ancient Greece who had worked at the museum for 35 years before this summer.

An antiquities expert is said to have tipped off staff at the museum in 2020 after noticing a piece of Roman jewellery being offered for sale on eBay, according to the Daily Telegraph.

Mr Higgs’ son Greg on Thursday claimed that his father was innocent, and told The Times that his dismissal had come as a shock.

“He’s not done anything,” he said. “He’s not happy about it at all. He’s lost his job and his reputation and I don’t think it was fair. It couldn’t have been [him]. I don’t think there is even anything missing as far as I’m aware.

“He worked there for what, 35 years without any incidents. They relied on him for so much stuff. And then, yeah, I don’t know what changed.

“He’s devastated about it, because it’s his life’s work, basically. I’ve never known somebody who’s so passionate about what he did. I mean, he’s a world expert in his field.”

The British Museum declined to comment.

Mr Higgs, who has a doctorate in archaeology, was a senior member of staff and had worked at the museum since 1993.

He had recently served as the museum’s acting keeper of Greek collections and was co-editor of a book on Sicily and its heritage.

Greg told the Telegraph that his father had been dismissed in July, but had been under investigation for “a while”.

“He's with family currently for a bit of support because it's been very hard, losing half of our income pretty suddenly.

“At this point he doesn't even really care what people think of him, he just wants a chance to live a normal life.

“It gets to that point sometimes where even if you're innocent you'd just rather not have everyone speak to you all the time about it, at least from the museum. He's lost all faith in the museum.

“The one thing he said was that he was really hurt by the fact that even if his colleagues could have supported him they probably wouldn't be allowed to - that's what he said to me.”

The items allegedly taken from the museum include gold jewellery and gems of semi-precious stones, and glass dating from the 15th century BC to the 19th century AD, which were not recently on public display and were mainly used for research and academic work.

It is understood that the items were taken before 2023 and over a “significant” period of time.

Items have gone missing from the museum in previous years including a number of coins and medals in the 1970s and a 1993 break-in when Roman coins were taken.

In 2002, the museum reviewed security following a 2,500-year-old Greek statue being stolen by a member of the public.

The institution said at the time that the Greek Archaic Gallery had been open to the public but there was no permanent guard on duty when the 12cm-high marble head was taken.

Two years later, Chinese gems also went missing.

The matter is also under investigation by the economic crime command of the Metropolitan Police.

A spokesperson for Met Police said: “We have been working alongside the British Museum.

“There is currently an ongoing investigation – there is no arrest and inquiries continue. We will not be providing any further information at this time.”

Hartwig Fischer, director of the British Museum, said that security had been ramped up following the disappearance of the items.

He said: “The museum apologises for what has happened, but we have now brought an end to this - and we are determined to put things right. We have already tightened our security arrangements and we are working alongside outside experts to complete a definitive account of what is missing, damaged and stolen. This will allow us to throw our efforts into the recovery of objects.”