British Museum Initiates Legal Proceedings Against Curator Peter Higgs Over Thefts

British Museum

The British Museum, through its trustees, has initiated legal proceedings in the High Court of Justice King’s Bench Division against Peter Higgs, a former employee who served as a curator in the museum’s department of Greek and Roman antiquities for a period spanning three decades from 1993 to 2023, until his termination for alleged “gross misconduct.” As outlined in a 24-page filing, termed a “skeleton argument,” the museum asserts that Higgs engaged in acts of theft and sale of approximately 1,800 objects from its collection between the years 2009 and 2018.

The filing contends that Higgs, in his capacity within the museum, exploited his position of trust to purloin gems, jewellery, gold, silver, and other valuables from the museum’s holdings. Additionally, it alleges that Higgs intentionally inflicted damage upon certain items by attempting to extract gold or silver from them. While the precise extent of Higgs’s alleged misconduct remains undetermined, the museum estimates that hundreds of the stolen or damaged items were sold or offered for sale by Higgs, predominantly utilizing eBay and PayPal as platforms for transactions.

Law enforcement authorities, specifically the London Metropolitan Police Service (MPS), informed the museum that Higgs conducted 96 sales of objects resembling those held within the museum’s collection via his eBay account between May 2014 and December 2017. These transactions, detailed in the court papers, involved relatively modest sums, typically in the double-digit or low triple-digit range, and were completed with approximately 45 distinct buyers.

In its pursuit of justice, the museum has petitioned eBay and PayPal to furnish pertinent documentation relevant to the claim. Notwithstanding Higgs’s purported efforts to conceal his illicit activities through various means, such as utilizing PayPal accounts associated with his residential address or employing the alias “Paul Higgins,” the museum asserts that his attempts at deception were often ineffectual or overtly flawed.

Furthermore, the museum alleges that Higgs endeavoured to obfuscate evidence of theft and damage by tampering with the museum’s information technology systems without legitimate justification. Such actions reportedly included severing links to images of objects to impede detection and altering objects outside his designated area of specialization. Law enforcement officials purportedly discovered handwritten notes and printed instructions pertaining to database manipulation at Higgs’s former workspace.

Subsequent to a search conducted at Higgs’s residence in August 2023, the MPS seized numerous items, including electronic devices and a notebook containing registration numbers corresponding to some of the stolen or impaired items. Additionally, a collection of ancient bronze coins and medals, accompanied by handwritten notes, was confiscated. Based on a comparative analysis, law enforcement authorities indicated a high likelihood of their association with the museum’s holdings.

Despite the museum’s legal actions, Higgs has yet to face criminal charges, and the filing indicates his purported difficulty in effectively responding to the proceedings due to severe mental strain and ongoing counselling for mental health and depression. While represented by solicitors in the criminal proceedings on a pro bono basis, Higgs has not provided any substantive evidence in rebuttal to the museum’s claims.

The museum, constrained by ongoing legal proceedings, has refrained from offering additional commentary beyond the filing’s contents.
In response to the museum’s request to disclose eBay and PayPal records, the High Court has acceded to the request, with Higgs indicating his intent to contest the allegations.

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