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Former British Museum Curator Ordered to Return Stolen Artifacts

Former British Museum curator Peter Higgs has been ordered by the High Court to return artifacts he allegedly stole.
Former British Museum curator Peter Higgs has been ordered by the High Court to return artifacts he allegedly stole. Credit: wallyg. CC BY 2.0/flickr

A former British Museum curator who stole and damaged artifacts has been ordered by a high court, which heard that many hundreds of the items were listed on eBay, to return any that remain in his possession.

Before Higgs was fired earlier last year, he was the museum’s head of department for Greece and Rome for more than thirty years and a prominent curator of Greek antiquities.

The cultural institution initiated legal proceedings against Higgs, who was dismissed for gross misconduct in summer last year after more than a thousand items were found to be missing, stolen, or damaged.

Lawyers in service of the London museum’s trustees say there is “compelling evidence” Higgs “abused his position of trust” between at least July 2009 and January 2018, but he denies this, as reported by The Independent.

Justice Heather Williams exacted an order at the High Court in London today, Tuesday, March 26th, stating that Higgs must list or return any stolen items within four weeks. Barrister Daniel Burgess maintained that Higgs, who has been under investigation by the Metropolitan Police but not charged with anything, stole items such as jewelery, gems, gold, silver, and “intentionally” damaged artifacts by removing gold and silver from them, as per The Independent.

What happened to the British Museum artifacts?

The court heard that it is believed the items were stolen or damaged and that many hundreds of them were listed for sale on eBay, using PayPal to facilitate payment. Most of the objects had been kept in a storeroom.

Burgess wrote on his written argument: “Those acts amounted to conversion or trespass, breach of his employment contract and breach of fiduciary duty.” The lawyer claims that Higgs is planning to dispute the claim.

He told the court the defendant had access to the artifacts and attempted to cover his tracks by using fake names, producing false documents, manipulating the museum’s records, and selling items at significantly less than their value.

Higgs was also accused of impeding the British Museum’s investigation into the thefts of artifacts by asking a colleague to delete texts and emails and refusing to offer up relevant information, the court heard.

Burgess said in written argument: “The items that have been stolen from the museum are of cultural and historical significance. There is a compelling public interest in their recovery. The museum (and that public interest) will suffer irremediable harm if the items are lost, including because delay in locating them means that they become irrecoverable.”

The court heard that 356 stolen artifacts have been given back to the museum to date.
Justice Williams also ordered the showing of eBay and PayPal records belonging to Higgs, which could contain evidence of any sales that were made. She said there was “cogent evidence” that the institution’s allegations could be correct.

The Met will also give an independent computer specialist temporary access to devices they seized during a search of Higgs’s home on August 16, 2023.

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