IT is a medieval mystery that would puzzle even Brother Cadfael. How were thieves able to walk out of the National Museum of Scotland unchallenged carrying two oak panels which date from the late 15th to 16th century?
A police investigation has now been launched after the Gothic style oak panels were reported missing from the Kingdom of the Scots gallery.
The items may have been taken as early as March but their disappearance was only noticed this month while staff carried out an audit.
A member of staff believes he may have an answer, and blamed cutbacks in security. The museum worker, who asked to remain anonymous, said colleagues were “stretched and disillusioned”.
He claimed to have been told that the panels’ disappearance was discovered at around 4.45pm on Tuesday, just before the museum was due to close.
He said: “For most of that day, there was only one visitor services assistant patrolling the Kingdom of the Scots gallery [all three levels], the Connect Gallery and Hawthornden Court, a very large area indeed.
“There should really be around four covering this area but staffing levels are really low due to budget cuts.
“Recent funding cuts have led to extremely low levels of staff patrolling the galleries. This may have been avoided had the galleries been properly supervised.”
The man also claimed that the panels had been fixed to the walls “very loosely”.
He described it as a “miracle” that something like this had not happened before.
The top attraction, however, has been quick to defend its robust security measures.
“We have a range of security arrangements in place which are regularly reviewed,” a spokeswoman said. “However, we can confirm two carved panels have been stolen from the National Museum of Scotland.
“The matter is being investigated by Police Scotland and therefore we are unable to comment further.”
The museum was unable to provide photographs of the items stolen and declined to supply CCTV footage of the affected gallery because it was part of the police investigation.
Valued at under £1000 each, the panels are understood to be from Dumfriesshire. About 1ft by 8in they depict Christian iconography.
A police spokesman said: “Inquiries are at an early stage.”
The News revealed earlier this month the national museum is the most popular attraction outside London, drawing more than 1.7 million visitors last year.
Thieves in frame over the years
DARING raids of rare and valuable pieces of art have been well-documented over the years.
The largest art theft in history took place in Boston, Massachusetts, in March 1990, when thieves disguised as Boston police officers stole 13 paintings – collectively worth £180 million – from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum.
Vincent Van Gogh’s famous artwork has also been targeted over the years.
His Poppy Flowers painting, valued at £30m, was stolen from Mohammed Mahmoud Khalil Museum, Egypt, in August 2010.
The same piece had been stolen from the same museum in June 1977, but was recovered ten years later in Kuwait.