British Museum Director Hartwig Fischer has moved forward his resignation as significant thefts from the museum’s collection have become headline news.

Last month, Fischer had announced plans to step down from the role in 2024. In a statement Fischer said he now plans to resign as soon as the museum’s board has established an interim leadership arrangement.

Fischer said in a statement “…I have come to the conclusion that my presence is proving a distraction. That is the last thing I would want”.

The museum has also announced that Deputy Director Jonathan Williams is to “voluntarily step back from his normal duties” during an independent review into the thefts.

The review is led by former trustee Sir Nigel Boardman, and Lucy D’Orsi, Chief Constable of the British Transport Police. The thefts are also under investigation by the Economic Crime Command of the Metropolitan Police.

The museum said items thought to have been stolen include gold jewellery and gems of semi-precious stones and glass, dating from the 15th century BC to the 19th century AD. The amount of items stolen is thought to be in the thousands.

George Osbourne, the chairman of the British Museum’s trustees, told Radio 4’s Today Programme over the weekend: “We believe we’ve been the victim of thefts over a long period of time, and frankly more could have been done to prevent them.”

Osbourne said the museum has already started to recover some of the stolen items, and the museum is “going to deliver the stronger leadership that the public and the dedicated staff at the museum deserve.”

Antiquities dealer Ittai Gradel had reportedly attempted to make the museum aware of missing items in 2021, having discovered items for sale on eBay which appeared to be part of the museum’s collection.

Last week Gradel told the Telegraph that “the directorate needs to go,” and that the museum “needs a fresh start.”

In his statement, Fischer said the 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.

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