On June 25, The Chalke Valley History Festival played host to a BBC seminar on the thefts from the British Museum. BBC Culture Editor Katies Razzall and her team of investigators shared a platform with whistleblower Dr Ittai Gradel in front of a packed audience as they told the tale of how the thefts came to light and Dr Gradel’s pivotal role in exposing them.

The audience listened spellbound as, accompanied by slides and excerpts from the current BBC documentary series on the issue, the panel unfolded the course of events over a 15-year period.

Dr Gradel started by explaining his background and interest, and the nature of the gems involved, detailing their historical importance and variety, before setting out how his suspicions first arose about the eBay seller from whom he had been acquiring items since 2015.

The turning point came when he spotted direct evidence in the form of flaws in one gem that matched those in the records of the British Museum collection. The thief had largely sold off items that had gone unrecorded but slipped up after years of getting away with it, he added.

The BBC team of investigators told how they had tracked buyers down to the United States and Germany, where one journalist, Darin Graham, found what was arguably the most important missing gem in a public exhibition.

The audience treated Dr Gradel as a hero, especially after learning about the difficulties he had faced trying to get the British Museum management to take his alerts seriously. They were equally clear about how important they considered the museum to be as a British institution.

The BBC has now released a podcast series, Shadow World, currently a series of ten episodes covering the scandal and how it unfolded. It is freely available to listeners.