Thieves make off with museum’s medieval coins

The National Museum of Scotland on Chambers Street. Picture: Jon Savage

The National Museum of Scotland on Chambers Street. Picture: Jon Savage

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IT is the second medieval mystery to hit the National Museum of Scotland in just over a year.

Brazen thieves walked out unchallenged with two Gothic-style oak panels dating from the late 15th and early 16th century last spring.

Management have put these exhibits at risk by opening with a skeleton staff

PCS Union Spokesman

Now museum chiefs have been left red-faced yet again after three medieval coins were stolen from the same section – sparking claims that the priceless collection is at risk.

The coins, which date from 1555, 1601 and 1604, were taken from the Kingdom of the Scots gallery which houses some of the museum’s most precious items, including the world-famous Lewis chessmen, probably the best-known archaeological find from Scotland.

The theft was reported a week ago but it is has been suggested that the coins may have gone missing last month when management kept parts of the museum open during a strike, though the Scottish galleries had been closed to the public.

A spokesman from the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union, which is embroiled in an ongoing pay dispute with management, said: “We have been made aware of this incident, which is extremely unfortunate.

“There is some speculation that this may have happened during the recent strike. If this was the case then management have put these exhibits at risk by opening the museum with a skeleton staff.

“We would hope that management would get around the table to resolve this issue.” The PCS union has been campaigning over the removal of a weekend allowance from new members of staff for 19 months.

Former and current staff members also said security training needed to be beefed up in general, claims strongly denied by the management. A museum worker, who did not wish to be named, said: “Not only has the staffing budget been cut, but we are given very little training on security. The museum would rather invest money in grand projects and exhibitions rather than things like training and staff.”

But an NMS spokeswoman insisted that adequate measures were in place to safeguard the collection, adding: “We continue to provide appropriate levels of trained staff in our galleries. National Museums Scotland has a wide range of security arrangements in place which are regularly reviewed. We cannot discuss these arrangements in detail.”

The NMS declined to reveal the cost of the stolen coins but a former staff member described them as “valuable”.

A Police Scotland spokesman said: “Police were called to the National Museum of Scotland after a number of historic coins were reported stolen.

“Officers were called to the museum on Chambers Street on Friday, September 4, after staff discovered the coins had been removed from a display case.”

john.connell@edinburghnews.com