The British Museum’s director, Hartwig Fischer, said today that he would step down from his role over the theft of multiple precious items from the museum’s collection.
In a statement, Fischer described his presence at the museum as “a distraction”, a little over a week after multiple thefts reported to management in 2021 were made public.
He said: “It is evident that the British Museum did not respond as comprehensively as it should have in response to the warnings in 2021, and to the problem that has now fully emerged. The responsibility for that failure must ultimately rest with the director.”
Fischer said he would depart as soon as an interim leadership arrangement had been put in place by the charity’s board.
The museum had previously said that “all items were accounted for” following an investigation in 2021.
George Osborne, former Chancellor of the Exchequer and current chair of the museum, confirmed the board had accepted Fischer’s resignation, saying he had acted “honourably in confronting the mistakes that have been made”.
The announcement followed the launch of an independent security review and the dismissal of a member of staff after the precious items, some dating back to the 15th century BC, were found to be missing, stolen or damaged.
The majority of the items in question were small pieces – mainly gold jewellery and gems of semi-precious stones and glass – that were kept in a storeroom belonging to one of the museum’s collections, according to an earlier statement issued by the charity.
Fischer said: “The situation facing the museum is of the utmost seriousness. I sincerely believe it will come through this moment and emerge stronger, but sadly I have come to the conclusion that my presence is proving a distraction.
“The British Museum is an amazing institution, and it has been the honour of my life to lead it.”