Our statement on theft from museums
23 August 2023
The recent theft of a substantial number of items from the British Museum has focused attention on the security of our collections and has led to speculation that theft by members of staff is a widespread but hidden problem in museums.
The Museums Association is a UK-wide membership body representing over 10,000 people who work in museums and galleries and over 1,500 institutions. We can categorically say that theft from collections by people who work in museums is, fortunately, incredibly rare.
Theft by members of public – as in any other sector – does happen, but ‘inside jobs’ are extremely unusual. Stealing from the collection goes against our ethical code, which clearly states that museums workers should act in the public interest, take care of collections, and act with integrity.
Museums should have clear procedures in place, including whistleblowing polices, so that they can safeguard collections and be alert to any attempts, internal or external, to steal from them. Unfortunately the systemic underfunding of the sector over the past ten years has undermined some of these procedures. Restructures and redundancies have led to a loss of expertise and a weakening of the normal systems of checks and balances that take place within institutions.
Looking to the future we would like to see investment in museums – in the people who work in them and in collections and buildings – so that we can continue to safeguard and share collections with communities across the UK.