Thursday, March 1, 2012


Police drop investigation into British Empire and Commonwealth Museum
No one charged over sales of museum objects taken from the collection

By Gareth Harris. Web only
Published online: 23 February 2012

An investigation into the unauthorised disposal of objects from the Bristol-based British Empire and Commonwealth Museum has been dropped by Avon and Somerset police. The museum’s former director, Gareth Griffiths, left in February last year. The chairman of the museum's trustees, Sir Neil Cossons, gave as the reason for his dismissal “the unauthorised disposal of museum objects”, and the director's “abuse of his position”.

“In March 2011 police received an allegation of theft in connection with the British Empire and Commonwealth Museum in Bristol… following the investigation, and after consultation with the crown prosecution service, it was considered that there was insufficient evidence to bring any criminal charges,” says a police spokesman.

The trustees responded yesterday with a statement, saying: “[We] have been advised by Avon and Somerset Police that they do not intend to bring a criminal prosecution against the museum's former director [Griffiths] who was dismissed on 17 February 2011. The trustees are taking legal advice on the museum’s civil law remedies in respect of these matters.”

Griffiths could not be contacted for a comment but released a statement through his solicitors in March 2011 saying that any objects were disposed of with the knowledge and agreement of the trustees and receipts were fully audited. “Any suggestion that our client has profited from the disposal will be vigorously defended,” said Griffiths's solicitor at the time.

The decision to abandon the investigation is the latest twist in the long-running saga. Last year, research revealed that at least 150 items left the Bristol museum’s collection, taken away for sale by the London-based ethnographic art dealer Douglas Barrett (The Art Newspaper, August 2011). Last month, the trustees stepped in to run the institution while a team from Bristol Museums has begun an audit of the collection.

The museum was opened in 2002 by HRH the Princess Royal to “preserve, explore and study Britain’s cultural heritage associated with the former Empire and today's Commonwealth”. High-profile visitors include the US politician Jesse Jackson in 2007. It has a collection of 553,000 items, including items from the Commonwealth Institute’s collection (the Commonwealth Institute, which grew out of the Victorian-era Imperial Institute, has since become the Commonwealth Education Trust).

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